Normal

So as usual we were running late to church this week.  This happens every week.  Every week.  TJ dropped the girls and me off at the door, and we ran in to get a seat.  We were lucky enough to squeeze in at the last moment and snatch a seat in the adoration chapel in the back.  Otherwise, we would have been stuck standing for the entire hour which is not pleasant with three little kids.

Eventually TJ got the car parked and came in to meet us.  We took off our coats, got comfortable, and started participating in the mass.

Shortly after the homily started, a middle aged women left her seat a few rows in front of us.  She had an odd look on her face — a bit haggard, a bit wild, a bit off.  She was wearing heavy boots and jeans, and as she walked, she stomped each of her heavy boots on the ground creating quite the commotion.  She did this all the way to the back and out the back doors, and then she did it again a little while later as she returned to her seat.

I remember her vividly, and I remember thinking something was wrong with her.  She’s not normal, I thought.

And then like a slap in the face, I caught myself.  “Not normal.”  After seeing this woman for a grand total of maybe 60 seconds, I had deemed her off and abnormal and different from myself.  The judgment was snap.  It happened in a moment.  It’s the kind of judgment we make all day every day as we go through our lives.

And then it hit me.

She is not normal.  But I am not normal.  You are more than likely not normal.  This woman, however, just had the misfortune to wear her abnormal on the outside.

We can all think back to grammar school and remember the kids who weren’t normal.  Those whose hair was a bit different or whose speech was a bit off or who liked bands that weren’t in the eighth grade main stream.  We remember how they were treated… mocked and ridiculed.  And we now hold conferences and write papers and do studies about these kids and about how we can get the “mean kids” to treat them better.

But perhaps when we examine these junior high dynamics, it’s not a window we’re looking through but rather a mirror.  Because how different are we?  As a culture, how accepting are we of people who wear their abnormal on the outside?  How kind are we to the family with the food stamps or the young, single mother with three kids?  How accepting are we of the ones whose abnormal affects their hygiene or their appearance or the language they speak?  How accomodating are we to the group that worships a different god or who has strange ideas about life and death, joy and pain?  How wide do we open our arms to the alcoholic or to the angry or to the instigators?

Our world is full of people who wear their abnormal on the outside, and it’s full of people who may act in kindness towards them but who deep down inside are seperating themselves — us versus them. Normal versus abnormal.  Satisfactory versus unsatisfactory.  We pride ourselves on our charity and our volunteering and our open mindedness and the kind words we speak, but if we fail to identify with those who wear abnormal as an outer cloak, how just are we being?  Isn’t our internal seperation just as profound as the mocks of the junior high kids?

What struck me most when this woman walked past was that what was most different about her wasn’t  that she was abnormal.  No what separated her was merely that the abnormal was visible.  It was on the outside.

Because if we look inside ourselves, aren’t we all abnormal?  Don’t we all have handicaps and weaknesses?  Don’t we all fall short and fail and break with what we are expected to be?  Isn’t it just that most of us are able to hide our abnormal because our abnormal is on the inside rather than the outside?

I wish I had a conclusion here to end with.  I wish I had a grand statement of hope expressing how as a culture as a whole and how as individuals we can change this attitude and how we can come to more closely bring under our wing all people — those with their broken on the outside and those of us with it on the inside.  But right now I don’t have any solutions.  Just an observation from my own broken heart.

I’m not proud that I saw her and thought her different.  I like to think I’m more evolved than that.  But apparently I’m not.

Are you?

Time Changes Everything

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So this was us today.  All cuddled into the top row of a somehow ridiculously overheated movie theater about to see…

Frozen.

I give you the dramatic ellipses because when you have multiple little girls, a new Disney princess movie is EPIC! (There I go with the drama again.)

Anyway, this movie adventure came to be because today TJ and I are celebrating the eleven year anniversary of one of the best days of my life — our wedding.  But the odd thing is that I spent the whole time thinking about another day that in the long run has turned into one of the greatest days of my life… August 31, 2005.  The day my doctor called me and informed me that I had a hormone disorder and that conceiving children would be quite difficult and perhaps impossible.

At the time I didn’t see it as a blessing.  Actually, my whole world felt like it was spinning out of control.  I felt powerless.  I felt devastated.  I felt broken.  I felt so guilty for bringing TJ into my world of disappointment and faulty endocrine systems.

The years of disappointment before the diagnosis and the turmoil during it and the heartbreak as months turned into years afterwards are times I would never wish to go back to for anything.  The uncertainty, the pain, the crushing disappointment, the fear.

But here I was today sitting in this theater with Terry and our herd of little girls and I couldn’t help but thank God for those years.

Those years taught me what true desire is.  They taught me I could handle disappointment.  They taught me that pain, even crushing pain, doesn’t have to crush.  But most of all, more than anything, they turned me into the mom I am.

The mom who gets overwhelmed and flustered and tired and burnt out and yet who still cannot look for even a second at her girls and not feel a gratitude so all-encompassing that it can make a heart skip a beat and hands tremble.

Because this is a miracle.

These three girls are ours.

11 years ago we stood on an alter and giggled at the lyrics ” may their children be happy each day and may God bless this family which started today.”  Just him and me.  Two crazy young kids.  And now eleven years later, it’s just him and me, and three crazy young kids.

This life is beautiful you guys.  It’s full of heartache and disappointment, but it’s also filled with so much beauty that if we open ourselves to it, we can’t but help stand in total and complete awe.

So I thank God for 2003 and for giving me my TJ.  But I also thank him for 2005 and for showing both him and me just how much all of this means.

Marriage is full of blessings, some of them obvious and some of them in disguise.  It’s a journey.  It’s a long and winding road.  It’s every cliche we can come up with.  Because partnership in this life IS life.  It is what makes life worth living.  It makes it harder and more complicated.  It can make it frustrating and tiresome.  But it also makes it more tender and intimate.  It can help us derive meaning.  It is a touchstone from where we came from and guidepost to where we want to be.  It is what helps us get from who we were to whom we want to be.

It’s crazy.  Two people.  And now five.  Love doesn’t always come easy, but when it’s real and when it’s strong and when it doesn’t give up, it can multiple into something so much greater than it ever was to begin with.

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Empty

empty

It seems to me that we live in a sad world.  We live in a world full of people searching for something more, something deeper.  You ask people what they need in order to be truly happy, and you often hear the same responses — more money, a better job, less stress, less debt, more time.  But the thing is that we can get more money and less stress and a better job and more time, and yet still, I’m not sure we really get any happier.

Our culture abounds with quick fixes for happiness – there’s gambling and drugs and alcohol and pornography.  There are cruises and Disney Land and remote retreats and reality tv.  Everywhere we go and everywhere we look we are bombarded with messages telling us how we can earn that peace and that contentment and that happiness that eludes us.  It’s the job of the advertising world to prove to us that they can fix our brokenness, and all too often, we believe them.  After all, what else do we have to believe.

Now that probably all sounds rather pessimistic, I gather.  But my observations don’t come from a place of despair but rather of hope.

I opened up my Facebook newsfeed this morning, and I came across this article that someone had posted.  I started reading it, and the more and more I read, the more and more I saw a glimpse into this broken world.  I can’t say I exactly understand the point the author was making, but despite that, it did what is most important in writing — it made me think.

We live in an isolated culture.  This is no more apparent than to the stay at home mom who spends her days behind the four walls of her home with her only lifeline to the outside world being the windows of her home.

Our culture prides itself on self-sufficiency.  We aim to do things on our own, and when we can’t, we pay someone to do them for us rather than ask for help.  It’s the American way.  Or at least it’s the way I see it.

We don’t have many community gatherings.  We have lost that sense of rise together or fall together.  And when we do finally venture out into the community, the walls we put up around our hearts are much more effective at keeping people out than the best of deadbolts or chain link fences.

We live within ourselves.  If we are lucky, we find one or two people with whom we can let down our guards, but even then, it’s so difficult because we were groomed in a culture that frowned upon this.  In many ways, we don’t know how to be ourselves around people.

And so it leads me to wonder if what is really missing from our happiness is actually ourselves.  We deny who we are, we deny what we need, we deny our feelings and our opinions and our values, and we hide them all so far inside of us that sometimes we no longer even know who or what we are.

I was busy in my twenties.  So busy in fact, that I would finally lay my head on the pillow, and I would be dizzy from fatigue.  I would hold on to the sides of the bed to keep from falling off as the world seemed to spin around me.  I didn’t have time to know myself, and I’m not sure I really had the desire to regardless.

But then time slowly began to open up for me.  I finished grad school; I started only working one job.  But then a strange thing happened.  I would sit in a room by myself, and I would feel like I no longer existed.  I had no idea what to do with my time, and even worse, if I did know, it would feel pointless if no one was there to experience it with me because the only way I was able to validate myself was through the eyes of another person.

I guess it’s hard to explain at this point, but basically I had started to feel like I didn’t really even exist anymore.  If there was no one there to share something with, then it was as if it hadn’t happened.

Luckily I was able to slowly move through this phase and I started to learn again what I liked and what I loved and what I valued, and I was able to rebuild my sense of myself.  I was able to become myself again.

And perhaps it’s through that lens that I am approaching this issue of real intimacy between human beings.  Perhaps it’s because I so desperately lost myself that I feel the need for us all to desperately reclaim ourselves.

I’ve been reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s book, and she is opening my eyes to so many things.  Her stories are told through the lens of radical honesty.  She believes in telling who you are loudly and strongly so that others can feel more comfortable in their own skin.

Perhaps my version of that truth is that we need to tell ourselves loudly and strongly so we can continue to exist and so that we can face this world as a whole person and as a strong person.  So that we can approach relationships and really come into communion with someone who knows who we truly are.  So we don’t have to worry that the world will eat us up because we have already presented ourselves to the world and it hasn’t broken us.  So that we can finally stop the desperate search for happiness and can come to the conclusion that it can exist within us when we are finally willing to let ourselves simply BE rather than hiding behind what it is that we think we SHOULD be and think and feel.

What if the secret to happiness isn’s something we can acquire or attain?  What if it is simply to be the being that we are when all of that is taken away?  What if it’s not in the acquiring but in the stripping down?  What if it’s stopping trying to impress people and instead it’s trying to be as real as we possibly can?  What if it’s in stripping down the facade and living with what’s left?

What if all we really need to be is ourselves?  What if that’s the secret to happiness and relationships and peace and contentment?

What would you do?  What would you do at this very moment if you were to become as authentically real and honest as you could be?

Home

home

It is supposed to snow this afternoon.  It’s nothing overwhelming, but 3-6 inches is a decent amount when the majority of it is supposed to come over the course of a few hours.  We have a birthday party to go to, and then we’ll be coming home for the remainder of the evening.  TJ is putting the girls down for a nap, and I’m stuck with a decision — do I go lie down in bed and sleep read, or do I tidy up the house?  The house isn’t a disaster, but I definitely have some work to do today.

A few months ago, this decision would have been very difficult for me.  It actually would have caused me to panic.  I would have considered the snow outside, and I would have felt the need to tidy up my house to perfection.  That’s what I do.  I get control that way.  I feel like if my house is clean, then I can be okay.

But the thing is that I wouldn’t have been okay.  I wouldn’t have cleaned my house because I would have been terrified of finding a mouse under my cabinets or by the dishwasher or under a pile of clothes or in the washing machine.  I would have started to tidy up, but then I would have looked at the number of toys I was trying to fit into a bedroom, and I would have gotten overwhelmed.  I would have went to put away laundry, and I would have been overwhelmed by the pile of clean clothes that had accumulated while I was busy avoiding the clothes for fear of rodents.

I would have laid down in bed to sleep.  But not because I wanted to.  I would have been avoiding being awake.

In some ways it was a hard decision — whether to move or not.  Our old subdivision went south after the housing market collapse, and we couldn’t sell our house for much of anything.  We were losing our down payment and over six years of mortgage payments.  It was a major step backwards, financially.  But then we were told by every expert we spoke to that we would never sell our house for what we paid for it.  The advice we got around every corner was either hunker down and stay there permanently or cut our losses as soon as possible and start moving forward.

I’m not the type of person who takes risks.  Sure I’ll randomly dye my hair red or paint my walls orange (BIG mistake!,) but real, honest risks are not for me.  Despite what all those Buzzfeed quizzes tell me, I’m a rule follower.  A good girl.  I do what I’m supposed to, and that makes me happy.  So to sell our house short was against every true and honest part of my nature.  But then I would look at my girls.  I would think about the neighborhood I wanted them to grow up in.  I thought about how much of their lives were spent in the car driving to and from school and church and even the grocery store.  And I thought about how much of our lives had been spent in a holding pattern for the past three or four years because we couldn’t move out of a place that was bringing us down in a neighborhood where everyone we knew had already cut their losses and left a year or two before.

And so we took the plunge.  It felt like we were jumping off a cliff and were just praying that the parachute would open.

And the amazing thing is that it did.  It opened.

I no longer wonder if we made the right decision because I know we did.  Because I’m not worried about tidying up my house because tonight when it’s cold and blustery outside, I will be inside my home, cleaning it, tidying it, making it a blessing for myself and my family.  Cleaning it won’t be about control because I already feel that control.  Cleaning will be about family and growth and comfort.  It will be a blessing.  It will be a step forward.

I grew up knowing the meaning of home.  I had a nice, comfortable home that made me feel safe and secure.  It was a place I could launch from and come back to.  And I guess it wasn’t until the last few years that I realized just how much that meant.

Over the last few months, I’ve thought frequently about the meaning of home, and every time I do, I find myself feeling more and more compassion for those without comfortable homes – whether it means they have no home or no home to feel comfortable in or they have a home that’s filled with anger or hostility.  Because without a home, it’s hard to focus on anything.

Home gives us a place to cuddle up in at the end of a long day.  It gives us a place to pursue our passions.  It gives us a place that we can call our own in a world that sometimes doesn’t feel very warming.  It gives us a place to love those we hold most dearly.  It gives us a place to reminisce about old dreams and conjure up new ones.  It gives us a place to make our own, and it gives us a physical place to make our mark.

Our home is a reflection of ourselves and what we hold dear.

And so while the decision of whether or not to sell our old house was a difficult one at the time, I am supremely confident that it was the right one.

Tonight when I’m cuddled up with TJ and my girls, I will be saying a silent prayer that finally we once again have a place to feel at peace.

Broken

broken

I don’t know about you, but I always seem to be on the search for perfect.  A perfect self and life and relationships and experiences.  It has always been like this.

I don’t know exactly when this started, but I do remember being a senior in high school.  I was trying to figure out where to go to college.  I had narrowed it down to either Marquette or Eastern Illinois.  I was nervous all the time.  I wanted to go to Marquette.  I believed it was the perfect college.  (It kind of is.)  Nothing else would do for me.  But there were a lot of factors to consider, and those considerations take time.

I kept repeating to myself that all I want is to know for sure by Christmas.  Then I could enjoy Christmas and the rest of my senior year of high school.  Because surely, surely I could not enjoy them with this decision hanging over my head.  Because I had to go to Marquette, and if God and the universe and fate and admissions departments didn’t understand that, then they were all wrong.  Because I knew what I wanted and I knew what I needed, and anything else would be a grand injustice comparable to all grand injustices in this world.

I remember the day I found out I got accepted into Marquette, but I honestly don’t remember if it was before or after Christmas.  It still took a couple of months to get everything straightened out.  But then one day it became official.  As of the Fall of 1996, I was going to be a freshman at Marquette, and everything was going to be perfect.

Then the day finally came.  We loaded all of my stuff into my parents’ truck, and I said goodbye to my sisters and brother, and we drove to Wisconsin.  I still remember the butterflies in my stomach.  I still remember thinking how very odd it was that this day was finally here.  I still remember the phone call I made to my then best friend, sobbing, telling her that my parents drove away and that I was beyond terrified.

And I still remember that first semester.  It wasn’t perfect.  It wasn’t really even good.  Honestly, it was a disaster.  I didn’t have very many friends.  I liked my classes, and I loved the city, but I felt so lost and alone in it.  I would walk around worrying that I was doing this (college) all wrong, that I was messing it up.  I had to be messing up because it wasn’t perfect.  And it was supposed to be perfect.  The brochures and my daydreams insisted upon it.

I bring up that time because it’s a pattern that I have repeated over and over and over again throughout my life.  I see something that I want; I obsess about achieving it.  I believe that my desires dictate how things should be, and then when I finally get them, I spin out of control because they aren’t perfect.  And when they aren’t perfect, I start to worry about what it is that I am doing wrong.  And I start to blame myself, and I start to feel lost and panicked and desperate.

But then every so often, I receive the grace necessary to be still for just a moment.   And in that moment, I am able to see my brokenness and my imperfection and my desperate need for something that isn’t here.  And it’s then that I am able to understand, usually for the most fleeting of moments, that we are all, every single one of us and every single situation and every single interaction and every single relationship and every single corner of this Earth, broken.

And the remarkable thing about broken things is that they can’t be perfect, and they can’t create perfect things.  And therefore perfect cannot exist among or between or within us.  I came to realize that when I was mourning a loss of perfection, I was in essence coming up against what really is.  I was butting heads with reality and reality simply would not budge.  Perhaps that means that I am supposed to.

And slowly I start to realize that our job isn’t to manufacture this perfection and our failure isn’t the lack of it.  Our job is to truly live within it.  It is to see the imperfection in ourselves, and it’s to see the imperfection in others.  It’s to see how two imperfects makes yet another imperfect.  And it’s to accept that. To accept the broken and to embrace it as the only reality that can ever exist.

My job isn’t to see the world and emphasize the broken.  It’s not to help other people find the broken parts of themselves. It’s not to be a mirror to all that is wrong in the world, and it’s also not to be a sponge to soak up all that is wrong.

No.  My job, our job, is to try to heal a little bit of the hurt that comes from the imperfection.  It’s to understand that the only place to find perfection and perfect peace is on the other side of this life, and it’s therefore to try to spread a little bit of that otherworldly grace to this side.  It’s to live by and for and through grace.  It’s to try to mend a little bit of the brokenness in others by laying ourselves over it and healing it with our grace.

It’s not to condemn or to judge or to impress or to fix.  It’s merely to accept and to love and to be grace for a world that is desperately lacking.

Searching for perfection is exhausting because it’s a pursuit that will never be satisfied.  Obsessing and panicking over whether we will find our perfect is a fruitless search that can only end in anxiety and depression and a grasping at things that never will be.  And rejecting people for their brokenness and imperfection will only leave us lonely and smug and cold and bitter.

This is our broken world.  It’s yours, and it’s mine, and if we can truly accept it for all it’s ugliness, we can finally also see its beauty and its light.

Who They Need Me To Be

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Five year olds are a new experience for me.  Five year olds aren’t toddlers or preschoolers.  We can still call them our babies, but they aren’t babies anymore.  Five year olds are kids.  Not quite big kids yet but definitely biggish kids.

For the last few months I feel like I’ve been stumbling in the dark a bit with Magoo.  I wasn’t quite sure how to be a mom to a biggish kid.

With the little ones it’s easy.  I cuddle them, and I tickle them.  We sing songs.  They sit on my lap while I read them books. A lot of what they need from me is my physical presence, my touch.  They just need me to be there with them.  Fully.

And then there’s Magoo.  We still obviously read together every day, but now it’s more her reading to me, and it’s pretty much just one set time because she doesn’t read books that can be read in one minute here, two minutes there increments.  She likes listening to music with me, but she’s pretty much past the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” phase, and I surely can’t get her above my head to do “The Grand Old Duke of York.”  She cuddles but not nearly as often.

And so I would say for the last six months or so, I’ve been struggling to try to figure out how to be her mom.  What do I do?  What should we do together?  How do I make sure she isn’t getting left behind because her little sisters need so much of me?  How do I make sure that she understands that her needs are just as important even if they are different?

And then I stopped thinking and I let her teach me.

She asked me a couple of months ago to teach her how to crochet.  I’ve started to.  It’s slow (sloooooooow) going.  But we will sit on the couch, her with her yarn and hook, and me with mine.  I don’t actually get to use mine because I’m spending the whole time helping her, but she gets so excited.  She likes to tell people how she crochets like her mom.

And she has this exercise program at school.  She has to exercise thirty minutes a day for twenty or thirty some days to win a free pass to a local water park.  And so we have started to do it together.  It’s too ridiculously cold to exercise outside, so we dance some days, and most days we pick an exercise video from YouTube to do together.  The second she wakes up, she starts talking about exercising and how we do it because it is so important.

She hears me talk about God, and she responds when I ask her what she thinks Jesus would want her to do.  She sees me sing at church and listen to the priest.  And she does the same.  She sings when I sing.  She opens the book when I open the book.  She says things like, “We are nice to people because that’s what Jesus wants us to do.”

And I watched these things and I listened to the things that came out of her mouth, and I finally started to understand that this is what she needs — she needs an “us.”  She needs someone to look up to.  She needs someone to show her what womanhood is all about.  She needs to hear the words, but more than that, she needs to see it lived.

And my goodness is that a concept to get my mind around.

We are big fans of Dr Phil around here.  (Don’t judge.  Okay, you can judge because I probably would too.)  He always says that the greatest influence in a child’s life is the same sex parent.  The first time I heard that, I almost had to reach for the wine… or the Xanax.  Because I have three little girls, and they have me to teach them how to be a woman.  I am their main example.  And so much rides on that.

I started to think about that and overanalyze it as I tend to, and I realized that I don’t know how to teach them how to be a woman because there are so many different ways to be a woman in today’s world.  And so then I finally came to understand that the best that I can do for any of the three of them is to teach them how to be themselves, and I can only do that by being the best I can be myself.

I think as moms we often feel so guilty about doing things for ourselves.  Even going for a walk around the block by myself makes me feel guilty.  But the more I think about it, perhaps the way we can be the best mom is to be the best person we can be.  And that means taking care of all of the aspects of ourselves and working on all of those aspects that matter most to us.

To be a mom, to me, has come to mean being a person first.  It means taking care of my needs so they can learn that theirs are important.  It means taking care of others’ needs, so they learn that we weren’t put here for ourselves.  It’s about putting God in the center of our home, so they can learn what the meaning of it all is.  It’s about living and being and breathing and moving in every way that matters most to us so they can see what this whole life is about.

They are going to watch everything.  They will watch their peers and their teachers and the people on television and the people in the magazines.  But luckily, from the very beginning, the people that matter the most are inside the four walls of their home.  And while that can be terrifying, it is also incredibly motivating and powerful.

And each night, when we pray over the dinner table, I silently close my eyes and imagine my arms reached out over all three of them, and I silently pray that I can do right by them and that I can be who they most need me to be.

“When you thought I wasn’t looking”

Mary Rita Schilke Korazan

“When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator,
and I wanted to paint another one.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you feed a stray cat,
and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw you make my favorite cake for me,
and I knew that little things are special things.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I heard you say a prayer,
and I believed that there was a God to talk to.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I felt you kiss me goodnight,
and I felt loved.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw tears come from your eyes,
and I learned that sometimes things hurt,
but it’s alright to cry.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I saw that you cared,
and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking,
I looked….
and I wanted to say thanks for all the things
I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.”

Have you checked out my Facebook page?

 

To My Girls: On Originality

DSC_0040To my girls,

You have been living with me this long and before you are old enough to read any of what I write, you will have been living with me many more years.  After all of this living with me, you probably notice that I have a few… um… obsessive compulsive tendencies.  This is nothing new.

I remember when I was in sixth grade, I got one of those pens that had four colors of ink in them.  This was pretty cool because it meant that I could write my homework in any of those colors that I wanted.  So I took all of my science notes for the entire year, and I rewrote them all in green.  It looked awesome.

Then I started to look at other people’s notes.  One girl had the perfect handwriting – the kind that seems to only appear in handwriting text books.  And it fit her.  She was very cautious and serious.  And her handwriting reflected that.  I wanted to be cautious and conscientious and perfect.  So I ripped out all of those notebook pages again, and I rewrote them in handwriting that was just like hers.  I looked through my pages, and I thought they looked remarkable.

Until then I saw someone else’s notebook.  She had her notes written in bubbly letters and instead of punctuating her letter I with a period, she used a heart.  ”Wow.  That looks like something from Saved by the Bell,” I thought.  And yet again, I ripped out all of those pages and I copied my notes in her handwriting.  It seemed young and cheerful and just really cool, a lot like the girl who wrote like that.

And this continued for years, I’m embarrassed to say.  Perhaps it’s because we wore uniforms and couldn’t really express ourselves in how we dressed that handwriting stood out to me.  For years when I would remember these note taking escapades I would laugh and think that yup, that’s OCD at its finest.

But then I start to wonder.

While it’s not pleasant to admit, I do have to admit that I will go into someone’s house and I will love their decor, and part of me will wish my house looked like that.  I want that style, and that floor plan, and that couch.  Whether the house is traditional or eclectic or just thrown together, I will look at how the house reflects the inhabitant, and I will wish those qualities for myself and that style for my house.

The same goes with a lot of other things.  The way people dress, the kind of car they drive, the books they read, their vocabulary, the types of pictures they post on Facebook…

We just read A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon, and that book spoke to me because in a way, I was always the main character, changing my stripes depending upon which version of a human being I wanted to be that day.

And then I look at you three…

Magoo, you are so intelligent and creative and compassionate and sensitive.

Goose, you are so passionate and excitable and intuitive and determined.

And Mae, you are so peaceful and goofy and gentle and communicative.

I look at you, and I want to beg you to never try to be another person’s version of yourself.

The world will have a lot of things it will want to make you.  It will want to make you look different and act different, smile different and laugh different.  It will try to mold you into its version of you.

But the secret is that the world can’t mold you into something you don’t want it to.  So the trick isn’t exactly to build walls to keep the world out but rather to build fences to keep yourself in.

It’s hard being a chameleon, but what’s even harder is living with the state inside of you that makes you want  to be a chameleon in the first place.  We don’t get like that by accident.  We get like that because we focus too much on the outside and we forget what we have on the inside.  We negate our offerings to the world and we instead what to give the offerings of another.

But the truly remarkable thing is that once you decide you won’t live that way anymore, once you decide to determine who you really are and live by what you really want, there is a peace and a contentment and a passion that will come over you that will make you not want to be that chameleon any longer.

There are multiple reasons why I started this blog a few years ago.  One is because I need to write like most people need to breathe.  If I’m not writing, I’m not thinking well.  Another is that I wanted a written legacy to you three.  I wanted you to be able to know the me that existed before your conscious memories did.

But another part of me started this blog so that I could finally claim who I was.  I would stop hiding behind silence or our front door or other people’s opinions.  This space made me take a stance.  It made me figure out who I am and what I wanted.  It made me be me and it made me own that loud and clear.

And I can tell you that going down that path can only bring you peace.  It will allow you to stop running and fighting and fretting and comparing.  Because once you decide to be yourself, there is no one to compare yourself to.  You are the only you, and that’s all there is to that.

So to my three baby girls, when you do finally read this, I pray you take these words and you live them — be yourself.  Be only yourself.  It’s who you were created to be, and you have contributions to make to this world that no one else ever will be able to.

Perhaps I’m slightly biased as your mother, but I couldn’t imagine three greater gifts that I could give the world that the three of you.  Own it.  Please.

 

Savor

I was lying on the floor this evening in the living room after dinner.  We were all chilling out before it was time for the girls to go to bed, and little Mae came crawling over to me, stood up, and started roaring in my face.  Then she broke into a fit of hysterical laughter and crawled away.

Earlier today, I was sitting in the kitchen, and Goosie came up to me and told me how her cousin had come up to her and given her a shot (a fake toy shot) in the tummy and how “it was soooo funny.”

And I was taking down birthday decorations when I heard Magoo behind me singing one of her favorite songs in the most dramatic of fashions and she bumped into me as she twirled across the floor.  The sound of her voice could have been mine thirty years ago.

And each of these times and dozens more in the past few days have made me want to stop everything going on in the world around me and just sit here and savor these three.  To take them in and drink them up and celebrate the joy of their very being.

This time last year, Mae had just been born.  She was still in that cuddly newborn phase, and I would just rock her in my arms for hours on end.  I didn’t want anything to change.  I wanted to savor that time with her.  Surely I thought nothing could be better than this.  And then today I heard her laughter and I saw her trying to tease me, and I saw her smearing birthday cake in her hair, and I thought again, surely nothing could be better.

This time last year, Goosie was just finishing speech class.  In a couple of months she had gone from one word to dozens, and now she’s able to do more than just tell me where things are; she’s able to share her emotions and desires, and she’s able to tell me why she thinks something is funny.  Just as I’m missing the babbling of her toddlerhood, I experience this new insight into her soul, and I think surely nothing could be better.

And Magoo… somewhere along the way she has grown up into a little girl.  Gone is the baby talk and the toddles and the need to always have me at her side, and in it’s place are joy and creativity and intelligence.  She and I make grand plans of craft projects to make and trips to take.  She’s my little buddy.  My side kick.  And I think surely nothing could be better.

We had Mae’s first birthday party today.  It’s a bit late because of our move.  And I’m sure none of you would suspect, but ordinarily I go a bit crazy before birthday parties.  I feel the need to clean every corner of my house and finish every last project.  I decorate every inch, and I plan homemade meals and multiple appetizers.

This year started out no different.  I didn’t have much actual cleaning to do, but I spent the better portion of the last week creating homemade decorations for every open bit of space in our house.  We started putting them out last night, and then as usual, we were rushing around trying to get everything done this morning.

And then I stopped.

I no longer cared if we got the streamers hung up.  I didn’t care that we still had a pile of pictures in the corner that needed to be hung.  I didn’t care that my mud room was muddy.

All I wanted to do was savor.

I wanted to go in the living room and spend time with the wonderful little soul we were celebrating today.  It’s as if suddenly I realized I could throw this party for her or I could enjoy it with her.

Luckily I chose the second.

And so we bounced balloons, and we opened presents and we (or rather she) smeared cake everywhere.  And I think it was one of if not my favorite birthday party we have ever had.

People always say how quickly time goes by when you have children, but I’m starting to wonder if it makes the time go more quickly or if the stages just make us acutely aware of the passing seasons of our lives.  Everything changes.  Everything is fleeting.  Today’s tender sighs and baby giggles become tomorrow’s first day of school, first date, and first apartment.

So often we spend our lives achieving — we want the clean house and the impressive resume and the coordinating outfits, but unfortunately I think what we often trade in for those things are the moments.  The moments of magic and of wonder and of innocence and of growth.

One day, I’ll be sitting on this couch and my girls will be off making their way into the world.  I pray that by that time I will have filled my bucket with a million memories of moments spent with them, and hopefully I’ll be learning to cherish the new moments that will come with those seasons.

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And while I sit here and write about savoring the moments of today and tomorrow, I want to just say thank you, I love you, and Happy Birthday to someone who played a crucial role in my memories of yesterday.  Happy Birthday Grandma!  I hope the angels are singing you “Happy Birthday” and that you have an endless supply of Heavenly Peeps!

Have you liked my Facebook page?

Be Love

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I grew up watching soap operas, Saved By the Bell, and romantic comedies.  I used to read the Sweet Valley Twins and Teen Beat magazine.  I was a sucker for anything romantic, so Valentine’s Day was always a big deal to me.

I remember when Valentine’s Day would come when I was a teenager.  I would always dream about how romantic it would be when I finally had a boyfriend who would sweep me off my feet.  I would envision fancy dinners (pretty much anything is fancy to a young girl,) and romantic walks in parks, and I would dream of huge bouquets of flowers.

To me, Valentine’s Day was what it was all about.  It was a day to be swept off your feet and to be taken into a magical world of sweet kisses and meaningful glances over candle light.

Then I met my husband.  I was in college during our first February together, and he was coming to visit me.  I spent weeks trying to figure out what to get him.  I remember trolling through the stores at the Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee trying to find something to get for this boy who I had been dating for only a few months.  I decided on an oversized teddy bear.  Because what 23 year old young man doesn’t want a teddy bear.  And that’s about all I remember from that Valentine’s Day.

And there’s not much to remember from ones after that.  There was the one that came a few months after graduating from college where colleaques were complaining about boyfriends who (gasp!) took them to restaurants that cost less than $100 per plate.  And then there were the Valentine’s Days in graduate school when I would spend the night at the restaurant I waited tables at, and nothing can demolish the Valentine’s spirit than waiting tables in a busy, overcrowded Bakers Square filled with college kids who undertip.

But this is our fifteenth Valentine’s Day together.  I am coming dangerously close to the point where I have had just as many Valentines Days coupled as I did single, and I can say that perhaps it wasn’t until this year that I started to understand what it was really about.

See all those years between graduate school and before we had kids, we tried to get in the spirit.  We would go out to meals.  TJ would get me flowers.  I would get him a nice card because after multiple years of teddy bears, I was plumb out of ideas.  But it always felt fake.  The idea I had in my head of Valentine’s Day always fell short because honestly, who wants to sit at a restaurant and stare into someone’s eyes for hours.  It’s kind of boring.

But then TJ and I had an experience a few weeks back.  They had a candlelight dinner at our church (stay with me here) for couples who wanted to know more information about the Catholic Marriage Encounter in our diocese.  It was on my birthday, and we were looking to do something cheap, so we figured we would go for it.  And we had a truly amazing time.

It was there that I finally understood what romance was.  It’s not candlelight or fancy dinners.  It’s not rose petals or champagne bubble baths.  Maybe at the beginning it can be.  But once you have shared a bathroom with someone, and shared a home and a life with someone, once you have watched them cut their toe nails and belch the ABC’s, all those other things just seem silly.

No, for us, the romance was in remembering.  We sat in the basement of our church for a couple of hours, and we reminisced about our first date and our first kiss, about our engagement and our first apartment.  We talked about the days leading up to parenthood and those crazy, early days learning to be a family of more than just two.

We started remembering each other as people, not just as the other half to a partnership that is tasked with way too much to do in too little time.  We remembered what we were like when we had time to really be who we were.

And that coupled with the approach of Valentine’s Day this year just made me start to see things in a new light.  If rose petals and candle light feel special, then that’s amazing.  But for me, I would be thinking about having to clean up the mess and call the fire department when the dog knocked over the candles and lit the whole house on fire.

No, to me, being romantic means being real.  It means showing love in your own unique way, not about receiving love.  It’s about the silly hand knit, anatomically correct heart I made TJ for Valentine’s Day this year to celebrate his love of all things biology and nerdy.  It’s about him putting the girls down for a nap so I can write this out.  And it’s about both of us decorating our daughters’ bedroom door last night, so they could wake up to a little Valentine’s Day excitement.

Now, I look back on all of those years when I was single and longing for a love, and I think about how very much I missed out on because I simply did not understand.  Valentine’s Day isn’t about corny cliches; it’s about loving those in our life who make life worth living.  It’s about giving of ourself, in all our unique, quirky, and authentic ways.  It’s about celebrating the best parts of life and love.  For some of us, it’s about champagne bubble baths.  But for me, I would prefer to chug the champagne while cuddled under blankets on my couch watching the Olympics.

So go out.  Show love.  It doesn’t matter if it’s towards a spouse or a child or a parent or a friend.  Be joy.  Be giving.  Be celebration.  And be love.

Happy Saint Valentine’s Day.

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Who She’s Becoming

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It’s almost daily that I look at my girls and think about how fleeting these moments are.  I’ll listen to their giggles and listen to their little girl play, and I’ll get nostalgic for times that are still very much here.  But it’s almost never that I’ll take a look at them and see what is ahead of us.

Until today.

TJ and Magoo have their Daddy-Daughter dance tonight, or as she likes to call it, the Daddy-Daughter ball.  They went last year and still talk about how much fun they had.  The videos still make me smile.  And so Magoo was filled with excited chatter as we holed ourself up in the bathroom to get her all fancy for her big night.

As I was creating curl after curl after curl (that girl has a lot of hair!) I told her that she looks so fancy that it’s like she’s a princess going to a ball.  She gave me a silly look and said, “Mom, I am going to a ball!” and then she continued her excited talk.

I told her that when I was a girl, I used to go to balls.  She asked me if I went with Grandpa and I told her that yes, I did.  I then went on to tell her that when I got older I went with other boys.  She asked me if the boys were my husbands, and I told her that yes, I did go to a couple with Daddy but that he wasn’t my husband at the time.  I told her we were dating.  She started to ask me what dating meant when she said, “Oh I know!  It’s when someone comes over to your house to play!”  And she moved on to the subject so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to explain the difference between a teenage date and a play date.

But as I sat there perfecting her curls and spritzing my perfume on her wrists, I started to get a glimpse of the Magoo who is to come.  The tween Magoo and the teenage Magoo and even the bridal Magoo.  I got the slightest and ever so fleeting glimpse of the young woman that will one day fill her shoes.  And half an hour later I am still choked up.

Usually when I think about my girls growing up, I get sad.  But today I wasn’t sad.  Today I was grateful.  Grateful that I get to take this journey with them.  Grateful that I get a front row seat to the transformation of these beautiful little girls into beautiful young women.  Grateful that I get to play a part in it.  Grateful that I get to help show them the way.  Grateful that for always and forever, I will be their mama.  Their one and only ever Mama.

When I was having a rough time after Magoo was born, I remember feeling as if I got kicked out of the world.  I was stranded inside my house without a car for ten hours a day every day.  I had almost no human contact during that time.  It made me feel unimportant.

But helping her get her mary janes buckled up this evening, unimportant was the furthest feeling from my heart.  All of a sudden I felt vitally important.  I felt crucial.  I felt irreplaceable.  Because should something ever happen to me, there will be people who can take over my duties.  But as a mom to a girl, there is absolutely no one who can take my place in their heart.

That’s the gift these three little ladies have given me.  That’s the blessing of this crazy, beautiful life.  That of all the people in all of history in all the world, I am the one who gets to help guide them through this journey.

What is more awesome than that!

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