Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Grocery Cart Moon

Although I was tempted to relax at home this evening, knowing we were out of milk and that the children had few options for breakfast on what would be their first day of school, I went grocery shopping. I zipped through the aisles pretty quickly and it was a little before 8:00pm when I made it to the check out line. With my groceries paid for, I headed out to the parking lot. The skies were darkening as I got back out to my car but the moon was so beautiful. I packed the trunk of my car but I took my time. I felt the air of the summer evening, listened to the sounds of my surroundings, and stared up at that glowing moon.

I love it when our minds halt moments in life so unexpectedly. Taking a deep breath, I smiled to myself. Being outside at night is one of my favorite ways to hit the pause button. It doesn’t matter what the weather, what the season. When I’m under the dark skies of evening, I stop and take everything in. The world and all its craziness will keep spinning but I have power too. One look at the moon tonight and I was living in the moment.

Knowing I’ll see my kids off and then head into school myself in the morning after what has been an incredibly full but happy summer, I am thinking about how many times I have felt overwhelmed, struggling to balance tomorrow with yesterday. Many times I have caught myself saying, “I just need to get through this week” or “Things will be better when …” but the truth is, my life will always be busy, rich, and full, and time will never slow down unless I make a choice to change my focus in a particular moment. My family is active with various hobbies, commitments, and friends and family time woven together.  Our schedules are jam packed. But music, theater, dance, soccer, volleyball, teaching, writing, directing, singing, cooking...these are all part of what makes my family happy. Giving up those activities might make life slow down a bit but in all honesty, I believe in letting my children dictate the pace of their lives. Like her older sister Sydney, Emma knows she could curtail her academics or her hobbies, but she feels fulfilled as things stand now. The girls enjoy being busy, they've each told me so. Paul has told me he’s probably not going to play a winter season sport but how he is looking forward to soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. He’s making decisions on his schedule now that he’s in Middle School. Eric will continue to direct and although I will miss him during the work of the productions, I’ll be busy with classroom research, planning, and writing. I’ll balance school with my love of keeping house--cooking, decorating, preparing for holidays, playing with my young dog, and checking in with family and friends.

Yes, we are busy. But we are a grounded family. We take on what we know we can handle and we scale back when we know we're doing too much. We’ll continue to pitch in on weeknights to keep our home orderly and to eat healthy. We’ll take time to talk, to laugh, and to share our days. We’ll cuddle up with one another when we need a hug or just want to snuggle. And when one of us looks up in the sky and sees the moon lighting up the night, or a falling snowflake that trickles down to the ground, we’ll be quick to stop and to take it all in. These are the moments where we remember that we can push the pause button anytime we need to.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Crazies

Okay, I admit it. When there’s only a week or so left of my summer vacation, I get crazy.  No. Let me be clear. I get REALLY crazy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the crazies take over my body. That’s right. It’s as though I am completely possessed by some external mischievous scamps who crawl in and mess with my emotions. I have come to recognize this in myself. I try to hold onto my sanity, to breathe deeply, to be rational,  and to talk myself away from the ledge, but I just can’t help myself. My eyes see the calendar, my mind does the counting, and my head explodes. The crazies come! There is so much I wanted to do! There is so much I had to get done! I will lose my freedom! I need to clean, to organize! I need to run away to the beach! I need to read another book! I need to have as much fun with my family as I can possibly squeeze into these last few days!

My poor family. This year it was said aloud, “Summer is almost over. Mom’s getting crazy”. There were smirks. There were eyes rolling. There was placating. I even agreed with my husband and kids and made fun of myself. But then yesterday I REALLY lost it. With just three days before I return to work, I wasn’t getting to the beach quickly enough. We got home from Sunday mass and I changed into my bathing suit and threw the sunscreen and my Kindle into a bag. I made sandwiches and found a bag of carrots and some grapes. In went some sodas too. Was I being timed on how efficiently I could pack? No. I tried to be more nonchalant. Emma was a good sport and helped me load the van with a blanket, chairs, cooler bag. But then Eric wasn’t getting up from his chair. He had a headache. Paul acted surprised that we had plans to go to the beach. He got whiny. I reminded everyone that this had been the plan for the day, that it meant a lot to me. I tried to stay calm. But my eyes went to the clock. Tick tock. Tick tock. The sunlight hours are diminishing, the crazies suggested to me. This was the last day we’d be able to go to the beach together. Dentist appointments loomed over the next two days. We had to go. It had to be today. It had to be NOW.

I took a deep breath. I thought about leaving the boys home. It could be just Emma and I who went to the beach. No big deal, right? It might be nicer to go with only my daughter. She was happy to read on the beach for hours. The boys would get restless. Why was I getting so anxious?! But then my imagination went to the day I had envisioned us having. The crazies didn’t want to settle for anything less than being with the entire family.

The boys came through. After hearing my plea, they got in the van and we all headed out to go to the beach. But then, at the end of the driveway, I began having second thoughts. What fun would it be to take a husband with a headache and a son who didn’t want to go in the first place? I drove the van back to the garage. “I’m going”, said Eric. “Mom, I’ll go”, said Paul. But it was too late. My eyes were already watering and God knew, this had nothing to do with going to the beach with everyone. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t want any part of summer coming to an end.

There were words. There were tears. There was even some swearing. Let me be clear. All those words, tears, and inappropriate expletives came out of me. The husband and the children were quiet. They knew what was happening. Mom had been taken over by the end of the summer crazies again. I even went so far as to throw my car keys as I stormed out of the van and into the house. Who was I ? Was I seriously this upset? In short, the calm, mature woman I usually consider myself to be? Yeah, well...she was no where in sight.

It was a short tantrum. I regret it but only because my son now has some ammunition against me should he ever decide to swear, or so he told his sister. But truthfully, I needed to let the crazies out. They were too powerful. It was hard to suppress them. And after a good sob session with my patient husband (the kids hid outside after I stormed into the house), I felt better. I even smirked first. I think. Maybe Eric did. But in any case, within 10 minutes, we were both laughing at my nuttiness of course. It’s true you know. It’s so important to marry someone who makes you laugh. To marry someone who YOU are able to make laugh. I cannot emphasize this enough. Don’t settle for anything less. Life is serious enough. It gets hard, and I’m not simply talking about the ending of vacations. There’s a lot of change going on right now and it’s all hitting me at once.

I meekly asked Eric if we could all go to the beach. And when he said yes, I started to cry, this time only to center myself, or maybe out of pure relief that this guy still loves me, crazies and all.

We returned to the van. I started to apologize to the kids (those poor innocent kids), but then I started laughing. Luckily, they did too. Then I heard their version of what they’d witnessed and we all cracked up again. Thankfully, they’ve inherited our sense of humor. “I’m sorry”, I said again, in all sincerity.

It was a lovely afternoon to be at the beach. The water was warm, the breeze was refreshing. We all went for swims. We read and napped and talked and snacked.  And even though I knew in my heart that I had guilted them all into going and had made the whole trip pretty darn awkward at the start, I was surrounded by three people who love me unconditionally, three people who know every neurotic part of me and who forgive me when I annually have to deal with this back-to-school transition each August. For we all know that I’ll be fine in another week or two. Life doesn’t end when my summer vacation does. There’s beauty and love in every season, in every little adventure we take, whether individually or together as a family. We are blessed all twelve months of the year.

Forever needing to take pictures, to somehow preserve as many memories as I can, maybe in fear that it’ll all be gone before the sun sets one day in the near future, as we prepared to leave the beach at the end of the afternoon I asked my daughter to take a shot of Eric and I. I put my arms around my husband and without skipping a beat Emma said, “Proof that my parents still love each other, despite the keys that were thrown in the garage”. Then she giggled.

That’s right Emma. The crazies may come again next August, if not sooner, but once again, they’ll be run out with a few tears and lots of love.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weathering the Storm

Don’t get me wrong, I think thunderstorms are pretty cool. I love them best when I am at my camp on the lake where I can see the weather moving across the lake. My grandmother used to fear them, but I am not afraid. In fact I love their drama. Yet every so often there is a powerful thunderstorm that jars me awake and which plays upon my imagination that unless I keep my eyes wide open until it’s over, my house will be struck by lightning. I do fear fire. So, whether it is out of a love for the dramatic or concern for my roof, it is rare that I will roll over and return to sleep during a mid-night lightning show.

When the children were younger, one clap of thunder would send them to our bedroom during storms. Rarely would they cry, but one by one, each would crawl out of bed only to slip under the covers of ours. One would pop between Eric and I. Another would sidle up to my side of the bed, waiting for me to lift up the covers in invitation. There were a couple of times when we’d have all three children with us. And the dog. Charlie was terribly frightened of thunder. She’d whimper and shiver until we invited her to join us in bed. That’s usually when the giggles would start and the storm outside was nearly forgotten.

In my mid-forties, I am beginning to read of my friends’ experiences with “empty-nest syndrome”. With another six years before Paul graduates from high school, I don’t often worry myself with such thoughts of what it will be like to be childless. But every so often it is quite apparent that I am no longer needed the way I used to be. And nights with thunderstorms, when I am the only one awake, well, those nights most certainly drive home how life has changed. Our dear Charlie, even, is no longer with us. And the new pup, even at the age of one, sleeps through thunderstorms on the bedroom floor without a care in the world.

The other night we had a powerful storm just after 2:00am. “It’s okay”, I told myself as I watched the skies light up and counted the seconds before hearing a clap of thunder. My husband slept peacefully beside me. I took a deep breath and flipped my pillow over, thinking that maybe, just for once, I’d try to fall asleep before the storm ended. But that’s when I heard it. My heart skipped a beat. The bedroom door opened a crack and that mature, cool twelve-year old son, my baby, peeked his head in.

I had to play this right. “Wow, I’m surprised that your sisters aren’t in here already”, I whispered to him. “This is a really powerful storm”.

“Yeah”, Paul said.

“Can you believe how close the lightning is? I can barely count a second before I hear the thunder”, I added.

That’s when I took the chance. I flipped back the covers,  hoping he’d accept the invitation to wait the storm out with me. But I prepared myself for the rejection. In my head, I counted. One. Two. Three. Four.

It was the best thunderstorm of the summer.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Through Sickness and in Health...

When Eric and I took our marriage vows, back in 1988, I foolishly imagined we would not test the “through sickness and in health” part until we were old and gray. We were both young and strong, marrying at ages 23 and 20. But in 1994 a prenatal test was taken too early and the false results cost us a few days’ peace before another one confirmed that our second daughter was going to be okay. It was our first jolt of reality that life can turn on a dime. We then suffered a miscarriage in 1998 and grieved that terrible loss, then walked on eggshells as we expected our next baby in 1999. All in all however, we were blessed with three children, all very healthy. No broken bones, no scary childhood diseases, only one rough month of severe physical reactions when Sydney had her wisdom teeth out at age 17. It’s a rarity that any of us come down with the flu, and there have been only a couple of times when Eric and I have needed one another to offer tender loving care for more than a day or two. Although I must admit that I am not the most patient of caregivers, I was there for him when he had surgery on his ankles to improve their flexibility. He was there for me (and surpassed me in consideration) when I suffered two bouts of pulled back muscles. Of course there was the one time I was frightened thinking I had breast cancer after my first mammogram showed abnormalities, but a subsequent exam again gave me a reprieve. We have been quite lucky. We are blessed.

But now our vows of 1988 are truly being tested. You see, what I was most naive in thinking all those years ago, was that the sicknesses we would need to endure together would be our own, or even those of our children. But that’s not the whole truth of the marriage vow. It appears that it applies to a wider circle. It seems Eric and I are meant to go together, hand in hand, tear by tear, through the trials of our Moms’ illnesses. Our Moms are both facing unique battles, despite the difference in their ages (my Mom is 85, his is just 67). There are no false tests to look for this time around. Although there is always hope, for nothing is impossible with God, the present and different health situations our Moms face reminds us the importance of all it will take to be there for one another again. 

The days, weeks, months, and years ahead will challenge us both, not to mention our loved ones. Some of what we face we must work through as individuals. Much of what we’ll endure can not be predicted. But our marriage vows are not to be forgotten. After all, our Moms each stood as witness to the love that brought he and I together. We were both raised by stoic, selfless, strong, sensational women. I have absolutely no doubt that Barbara’s first child and Doris’ last child will continue to make their Moms proud.

The following websites offer you a way to make a contribution to fight for the abolishing of the diseases that our Moms endure. Thank you for your generosity whether in monetary donation or in prayer.