Ferrari or jalopy?

Love.

It’s something you never think about when the gears are in motion and the machinery is chugging along. You take for granted the easy ride, but the machinery of love requires upkeep, regular tuneups in the form of outings, dates, memory-making experiences. It benefits from regular polishing with the wax of affection, carefully and deliberately applied. Smoothing oil of conversation and companionship keep the motor purring.

Neglect any one of these things and this machinery starts to break down. Gears start sticking, squeaking and squawking. The motor gets tarnished and full of gunk. Forget about the tuneups and soon you find yourself stuck by the side of the road, trying desperately to flag down help.

 

 

Reach for the Stars

wp-1471102556464.jpgWhen my son was four years old, I sent him to Grandma’s house and painted his room – a black ceiling fading down the wall into blue, then regular white. I added in planets, scaled as much as possible, with his light as the much-too-small sun. Glow-in-the-dark stars popped up all over the night sky. Above his door I painted, “Reach for the stars!”

Well, I can’t claim responsibility for my son’s successes. He’s put in plenty of hard work and has been influenced by many great people. Still, I’d like to believe that that one saying, hand-painted somewhere he couldn’t miss, served as a daily reminder to reach for success.

He’s had his ups and downs. In fifth grade, somehow he managed to convince me that a major project was due the day after the last day of class. His teacher was probably surprised when he waltzed in in the middle of grading with his project in hand. We doubled down on the work ethic, relieving him of some of the distractions for a while. It worked. He became a stellar student through middle school and high school.

When he got out on his own, Mom wasn’t there to nag him any more, and he faltered, but just a bit. Chalk it up to a lack of direction and focus. At one point, I pulled him aside and said, “Look, what are you going for here? What is it you want to do with your life?”

He related a story of going stargazing with a friend who had a Dobsonian telescope and seeing the rings of Saturn. His eyes shone as he spoke. “Mommy,” he said, “I want to have an observatory.”

Well, that’s not what I expected to hear, but we went online and looked at the possibilities of buying an observatory. It turns out, most “observatories” are small silos in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know if I said this at the time, but I could not imagine my social, talkative son spending his life in the middle of nowhere. I looked at him as we perused. He seemed perplexed. This may not have been what he was expecting either.

“Hey, you should check this place out,” I said, opening a page for Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The previous summer on a road trip to San Antonio to drop my daughter off for college the rest of the family had stopped here. We had been impressed with this small observatory in dark sky territory. (He hadn’t been able to come along.) As we looked through the website, we clicked on the jobs page. There was an opening for an educator. We looked at each other.

He applied.

What began as an educator position (read tour guide) has morphed into a research assistant position and the pursuit of a physics/astronomy degree. He is currently looking into doctoral programs around the country and around the world. He has seen the construction of the Discovery telescope and met Neil Armstrong, and is currently helping to map the universe. (At least I think that’s what he’s doing. He’s talking a bit above my head these days.)

I think back to that inquisitive little boy who just wanted to know more about the world around him, and I just have to smile. He’s reaching for his stars.

 

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Greener Grass

Ah, the old greener grass dilemma, the one that has you looking over the fence and drooling at your neighbor’s yard, dog, family, life. And by neighbor I mean anyone. It’s cliche, but the grass really may be greener on the other side of the fence. I mean, when’s the last time you fertilized your own lawn.

It’s easy to look outward, especially in the age of Facebook and Instagram, and see who you want to be. It’s hypnotizing, the desire to remake oneself into a thinner, richer, happier, or more successful person than may be the present case. A person may appear to be fulfilled, surrounded by beautiful, happy faces cheering him or her on. Yet a snapshot does not describe a life any more than a book cover does a book. Because we can’t know the fertilizer our neighbor is wading through, we may idealize his or her existence through whatever he or she chooses to share. Through social media we market ourselves as our perfect vision of what we hope to be as much as we buy in to others’ marketing efforts.  This disconnect has led to to the widespread Facebook envy phenomenon.

I’m here to tell you, that green grass has been fertilized by the same bullshit that’s heaped onto your yard and watered with the same tears, and the sooner you manage it and rip out those pesky weeds, the greener your own lawn will be. Tend your own lawn, and you will be so busy lying in the lush, green grass and looking up at the stars that you won’t even notice those poor souls peering over your own fence.

Sometimes people throw away something good for something better, only to find out later that good was actually good enough and better never even came close. ~Susan Gale

 

How Do You Vote?

I’m not stirring the pot of the heated election of 2016. I mean in your life, in your relationships, how do you vote?

Do you vote with your presence… or your absence? In a world filled with distractions, it can be tempting to eschew the company of a loved one for another trip down the Reddit feed or a Snapchat conversation with a friend. I have had many car trips with teenagers glued to their phones, and the longstanding rule of no technology at the table is continuously broken. Each look down instead of up is a choice for and against, and each vote is counted as a tally mark on the heart.

What role does work play in your life? A job is a necessity, but it can become a mission, another separate world complete with its own gravity, populated with its own citizens that speak a completely different language. Family becomes a distant blip on the horizon, a destination that becomes harder and harder to reach.

Do you take the time to visit loved ones, or do distances that are short on the map become insurmountable, as hard to reach as if they were on the other side of the world? It is said, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so the converse must be true as well.

Do you vote with your presence or your absence?


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Do you vote with words of kindness or of criticism? Do your words uplift or devastate? Negative words are like acid, drop by drop tearing down even the strongest foundation. Kindness is a glue that binds and builds not walls, but webs, scaffolds of strength that hold us all up and unite us. After a long day at work or school, are your words measured and thoughtful or impatient and rude?

Your words are your vote toward what you value. Do you vote with kindness or criticism?


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Do you vote with your dependability or do you frequently betray trust? Can your partner, your parent, your friend, or your child depend on you to catch them when they fall or do you constantly rock the boat just as soon as they stand? Where do your loyalties lie? Is impressing the masses more important than holding tight to those in the inner circle? In life it’s good to know who’s got your back. Trust is the foundation of love, and without it, love falls apart.


Photo credit: birgerking via Small Kitchen / CC BY

So, in the relationships of life, how do you vote?

 

Echo Chamber

This empty nest thing is for the birds. (Pun intended.) I feel like I should enjoy this silence after years of rambunctious kids and their singing and shouting, TV blaring cartoons through the house, dancing, laughter and fighting. Now  the house is just so quiet.

On a good note, I’m getting more proficient at self-talk. I can almost carry on a whole conversation with myself while walking through the grocery store. I’m not the only one afflicted. I saw a friend in the chip aisle the other day. We were both stocking up for graduation parties. I saw her before she saw me, and didn’t recognize anyone around us she might have been talking to. I approached her and laughingly asked if she was talking to herself. She nodded semi-sheepishly. I think we’ve both come to terms with a certain amount of crazy.

They say you should live long enough to embarrass your kids. I have, but they’re not around enough to be embarrassed.

I get it. Kids need their space. My head knows this. I’ve been an independent young person aching to stretch my wings. I lived through the days of no cell phones and probably didn’t call my mom as much as I should have. (Mom, I’m sorry I put you through this.) My head is on board. My heart, however, feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest and trampled on the ground in front of me. (Okay, only slightly dramatic.)

The thing is, I saw my mom starting to teeter with empty nest syndrome, but I was the eldest and didn’t take much time to look back over my shoulder. She coped by adopting a whole new family’s worth of kids, thereby extending her motherhood years by another eighteen. I was not willing to go that route. I looked forward to the day Mr. A and I could spend some quality time together sans kids. The appeal of a $30 dinner bill loomed in the near future. We could go out to eat 3 or 4 times for what it cost to take the family, all of whom are lovers of strawberry lemonade (at $4.00 a pop). We could go to the beach on a whim and not hear anyone complain about the cold or try to figure out an activity that everyone wanted to do. We could watch documentaries without eye rolls. Yet here I am, longing for those days, for the structure of the family web and the love and support we provide each other.

Determined not to be that parent frantically trying to hold onto my kids as they perched precariously at the edge of adulthood, I went back to school and finished up my teaching degree. I wanted a life, something to fall back on after motherhood, an airbag to fill the space left by my fledglings. The thing is, motherhood doesn’t end. Those babies whose first steps you worry about become preschoolers who learn to ride bikes and teenagers who start to drive and develop relationships and head off to college, and you never stop worrying about them. It’s a mentally exhausting job. My life is inextricably intertwined with those of my kids, bonds I’m sure they’re only too eager to hack at with the machete of youth.

I know they’re busy. I was too, at their age. The days go by and my phone doesn’t ring. Texts go unanswered, and then all of a sudden they are there, cheery and wanting to talk, and for a moment, life goes back to the way it used to be. Too soon the conversation ends, and I’m surrounded by silence once more. I’ll be glad to one day reach a state of equilibrium.

In the meantime, won’t you join me in crying over this clip from Toy Story? I’m certain the song was written by an empty-nester.

Contrails


Photo credit: brx0 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Through untamed wilds we cleared a space;
A vision shared of sweet-smelling roses
And filtered sunlight through trees,
A place that invited happiness in.

And happiness came through the open door
On toddling feet,
And in the whisper of a curious, “Why?”
Like wind over warm ocean currents
It grew and nourished,
Warmed and refreshed.

As the roses grew, so did the thorns,
And an occasional branch fell from the tree
Leaving the sting of pain
And debris,
And clean-up ahead.

But happiness came again
As we worked side by side
And tended each other’s wounds.

We built a tower and pulled them up
Encouraging and guiding small hands and feet.
Through new-found confidence,
They soon sought their own footholds,
And brushed our hands away impatiently.
Yet we remained, unbidden,
Within arm’s reach,
Ready to grab on tight
Should they start to fall.

And happiness overtook us
On its way up, up, up,
Seeking its own path.

As they reached the top
They marveled at the view,
Three-hundred-sixty degrees of possibility.
Turning and turning, overwhelmed.
Which way to go?
And we nodded our understanding
As they stretched their wings,
Balanced on the precipice of what was
And the possibilities of what could be.

And happiness blew over us like the breeze
Tossing hope like leaves through the air,
Fluttering through their outstretched wings
As it beckoned in a whisper,
“Let’s go.”

One by one they took the leap,
Turning back only briefly,
To make sure we were still there.
Then charting a course into the unknown
They flew,
One by one,
Not looking back to see us wave
A sad goodbye,
As they rode off on the currents of happiness.
Stretching their wings,
Soaring ever higher, ever farther,
Growing smaller in our view.

Then the world became still, if only for a moment,
Contrail reminders of happiness dispersing in the atmosphere,
In the pause before we climbed back down,
Alone in our togetherness.

Transitions

Brown eyes watch my stillness
As an ember glows brightly,
Fanned by the winds of change,
Fed by laughter and footfalls echoing through time
Off photo-plastered walls,
Into a blaze that threatens to engulf.

I am fueled by the fire within.

Photographs of frozen moments
Stand in for warm bear hugs and childish grins.
The jangle of a telephone subdues the flame, and time ticks off
Seconds, minutes, hours in a life of waiting.
Then again, silence – nothing but expectant thumping
Of a dog tail on hardwood floor.

I am fueled by the fire within.

Resigned to fate, I pull on my running shoes.
This race isn’t over yet.
“Ready, girl?” I ask both of us.
The thumping intensifies, a beating drum of anticipation.
I cup a burning ember in hardened hands and place it in my soul.
“Let’s go.”

I am fueled by the fire within.

Tiny Footsteps


Photo credit: Ian Agrimis via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Tiny footsteps once echoed through our cozy house, staccato taps of small feet encased in glittered jellies and flashing velcroed tennies. Those little feet bent fresh grass, but only briefly; grass springs back, erasing evidence of passing. Bare heels and toes in miniature once impressed themselves upon the sand beside much larger ones, leaving a trail of passage too soon washed away. Pink ballet slippers that once pirouetted over bare floor now rest in a cedar box alongside hiking boots sized for not-yet-walking feet.

To everything there is a season. Children grow and seek their own paths, and all too soon the footsteps are leading out the door.

The house is quiet now, but if you listen carefully, you may hear echoes of those once-small footsteps.

 

 

Retrospective

Home life is quiet now. Too quiet.

If you would have asked me five years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have laughed. Smartypants lived 20 miles away at college and would come home on weekends, bringing with him his boisterous laughter and penchant for conversation. B0203012003aubbly, talkative Sunshine was still at home, and we shopped, cooked, and crafted between school, dance competitions and sleepovers with friends. Goose became a trumpet player and Maverick finessed his soccer moves or basketball shots. We relished each other’s company. They fought and laughed. We nagged and teased. The family pulse was beating strongly. Quiet came when no one was home, when work and school and obligations rendered the house devoid of life

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If you would have asked me ten years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have rolled my eyes. Sunshine would have just entered her teen years, complete with slamming doors and shouting about parental atrocities and the unfairness of it all. Smartypants would have still been at home, and the revolving door of his life would have brought friends and a girlfriend, student journalism and robotics, and down time always brought the sound of his guitar. Goose and Maverick would have been alternating between the fantasy world of swordplay and wrestling each other to the ground, small warriors taunting each other with fighting words. Warm summer evenings found us around the fire, with lightsaber fights breaking the tranquility of the night. Remnants of Scattergories, Scrabble and Settlers littered the kitchen table, bearing witness to lively family game nights. Mario Kart challenges were heated, with trash talk and shouts of victory. The speed of life in these days was always at a run. Goose especially lived at full volume and never quite knew how to pull punch. Quiet was relative, and came late at night.

 

Dad048If you would have asked me fifteen years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have looked at you with wide-eyed, shell-shocked wonder. Smartypants would have been a fifth grader with too many activities on his plate, balancing them with Cat in the Hat finesse. Dinners were often on the run. Sunshine’s life revolved around dance classes and play dates, and the Goose and Maverick’s favorite activity was to strip down to their birthday suits and run laughing from one end of the house to the other. Taekwondo high kicks competed with twirling and cartwheels, creating a circus-like atmosphere, the cacophony of children’s voices shouting over
each other and laughter, always lOldShtos275aughter, ringing through the house. There was usually a pretend animal lurking somewhere, and it turns out superheroes are rarely stealthy, at least when they are young. Disney jams were on constant repeat, creating a daily dance party in the living room. Silence was to be found in a locked master bathroom, and then only when Mr. A was home.

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If you would have asked me twenty years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have smiled, as it would not have mattered. Smartypants and Sunshine lit up my world, their days were filled with pretend play and requests, constant requests, for those things young children can’t do for themselves. Mommy, can I have some milk? Can you tie my shoes? Can we go to the park? Can we go for a walk? Will you read me a story? In those days, Barbie shoes and Legos created a barefoot walker’s nightmare, and we skirted them as carefully as we skirt conversation topics now. Silence came at with an early bedtime and a chance for two young parents to finally reconnect.

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If you would have asked me twenty-five years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would not have known how to answer you. We had just entered into this world of parenthood with a colicky, precious little Smartypants. I wore down the sidewalk in front of my house as I tried to soothe him, patting his back so my husband could sleep, grateful for the summer warmth. My days were spent introducing him to his new world, and rediscovering it myself through his sense of wonder. He walked at ten months and ran soon after, and he only slowed down to sleep. The music of my world was infant crying and baby giggles and babbling, then questions and observations from a knee high level. There was no need for silence.

But silence is descending, as sure as the rains come. It will be mere months before Goose and Maverick prime their wings and head off to college. Sunshine still calls frequently, but lives halfway across the country. We are lucky to hear from Smartypants once or twice a month. Very soon we will be true empty-nesters. The prospect of freedom has liberating appeal, quick and light travel, art and writing uninterrupted by small voices, a clean house, making food that is to my liking. (No more spaghetti – ever.)

But those small voices beckon from the past. “Mommy, look at me!” And as I look at them, I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride to see the people they’ve become.

The Power of a Hug

There are defining moments in life, those that stick with you and create enough of an impact as to define and realign your thinking patterns. When my children were small, I had one of those moments.

We were in our family chaos pattern of divergent needs, all clamoring to be met immediately. My mind was going to its frazzled state, a common one at the time. Pressure was on the rise, the needle hovering around red.

All of a sudden I seemed to see my children not as the little wild things they were at the time, but as precious beings under my care. I took them into my arms (and you must understand that they were not being sweet at that moment) and just hugged them and hugged them and hugged them. No scolding. No lessons from mom. Just a fiercely loving hug.

It was as if the pressure release valve opened. All of the clamoring stopped, not just for the moment, but for the rest of the day. In that moment I realized that what my kids wanted more than whatever they were clamoring for was my love and attention. In an instant my little wild things had been tamed with the power of a hug.


In response to The Daily Post’s prompt: Tell us about a time when everything seemed to be going wrong — and then, suddenly, you knew it would be alright.