my thoughts on motherhood, kids, books and stuff

Picking Pansies

As a young girl I often preferred to play alone. I had no problem going for long slow walks by myself as I filled my head with outrageous ideas and stories that I concocted as I observed the people and surroundings in my small town neighborhood. I could often bring myself to tears as I imagined witnessing a terrible car accident and singlehandedly dragging the small unconscious child from the backseat of the burning car as his poor mother went up in flames with the green paneled station wagon. Or, the common daydream I had, of being snatched away by a “stranger” and shoved into the back of a seatless van with small drapes covering the tinted windows. I could walk and think for hours about how I would make my daring escape and find my way back to my devastated family. I loved to imagine their joy and the tears they would shed when I limped back through the front door, dirty and bruised and exhausted.

I remember one such walk when I found myself in the backyard of an elderly man and woman in the culdesac across from my house. WelI…I was physically in their backyard…but in my mind I was wandering what I imagined to be a deserted island. I was excited as I unexpectedly came upon an abandoned cottage which was surrounded by beautiful wild flowers. I immediately saw all the possibilities I could create with all these flowers so I started picking and gathering them up in my arms without a second thought.

I was startled when a loud gruff voice with a English accent called out, “Who is out there picking my pansies?”

I looked around, but didn’t see anyone. I slumped a bit in an attempt to hide myself and began creeping around the side of the house to make an escape.

“Why are you picking my pansies?” the voice called out again.

I peeked up over the planter box into the covered carport-turned patio- and saw my neighbor, who was only the topic of childhood gossip to me, sitting in a vinyl lounge chair surrounded by a halo of cigarette smoke. I squirmed under his gaze as he squinted at me and waited for me to respond.

“Um. I’m sorry. I didn’t know they were your flowers.”

“Well who else would they belong to?” he demanded. “They are in my yard!”

“I didn’t know I was in your yard,” I said, as I started to drop them back into the planter box.

“Well, you might as well take them home to your mother now. I sure can’t do anything with them like that.”

I mumbled a quick thank you and scrambled away back to the safety of my house.

I took my walks in different directions for awhile, but something pulled me back in that direction after a few weeks.

“Hey! Aren’t you the little girl that was picking my pansies?” He called out one day when I walked by his house.

I hesitantly walked up his drive way and noticed that his wife, or so I thought, was sitting next to him.

I slid into one of the lawn chairs that was set out and for the next few minutes answered questions such as, “What is your name? Are you Lewey and Dorothy’s granddaughter? Why were you picking my pansies?”

The thought crossed my mind as I sat there getting to know this couple, that my mom and dad might not be happy if I went home smelling of cigarette smoke. Also…. that I was spending time with a couple that, as I found out in our chat, were not married, but lived together in the same house! That was sure to be a problem with my parents.

Well, those thoughts weren’t given time to reside long in my head as I learned from Bob and Jeanette that they knew my parents and grandparents quite well and thought fondly of them. My grandmother had been visiting Jeanette regularly for years and my mom had taken meals in to them on many occasions, so they must not be all bad. My mom later confirmed that she would be happy for me to get to know them better.

My walks took me more frequently in their direction and I enjoyed my short visits, even though I was still quite intimidated and a little scared of Bob.

I quickly learned that Jeanette was an artist. She had paintings all over her home that she had painted. I also had an interest in art and she loved to show me her work and tell me about why and how she painted each piece. I remember her being particularly fond of painting flowers.

A few years later when I was in my young teens with my time much more dictated by friends, boys, homework, and MTV, and my visits had become very infrequent, even many months apart, my mother informed me that Jeanette had become sick with cancer and was bedridden and needed people to sit with her often to help keep her spirits up. It was decided that I would take art lessons from her. I would pack up my paper, pencils, and water colors, and I would walk down to her house, and sit next to her for an hour each week while she gave me direction and advice on whatever I was working on. Bob would answer the door, and after all those years he would still greet me with, “Oh look! It is the little girl that picked my pansies!” But the tone of his voice was very different than it had been when I was seven years old. Even though he still did not remember my name, I could tell he had grown some sort of affection for the little pest down the road. Looking back I understand how he must have appreciated the break in the monotony of his day as he took care of his dear Jeanette, whose body was slowly deteriorating. My mom’s brilliant plan had given both Jeanette and I the idea that I was there primarily for art lessons. She did not feel like a burden for needing someone to sit with her and I didn’t go to my lessons out of pity, but instead, excitement to learn from an artist that I admired.

I don’t remember how long the lessons lasted. Not long. Maybe four months. I also don’t remember any details of the stories she told me as I sat and attempted to create a picture worthy of her praise. But I do remember as we talked the picture in my mind of Jeanette developed from an elderly shut in down the road to a fascinating woman who was highly educated, had extensively travelled the world in her youth, and had been a successful business woman in her prime. I remember the feeling of contentment and warmth and love for this woman, and even her gruff intimidating partner, as they welcomed me into their home and allowed me to be a part of a difficult and emotional time in their lives. What I didn’t realize at the time was that they were the ones helping me through a trying and emotional time in my life, as I dealt with the hardships of a changing body and hormones, difficulties from peer pressure and trying to find who I was, and an ongoing struggle with fatigue and school attendance. My hour a week with Jeanette was my sanctuary from the drama of my adolescent life.

Jeanette’s illness came to a point that she was no longer able to give me art lessons, and I was not able to stay longer than just a few minutes to hold her hand and tell her I loved her, before I had to slip out to let her rest. And then she was gone.

I still visited Bob off and on throughout the next few years as I accompanied my grandparents or parents on their regular visits. Even into my later teens I was still “the girl who picked his pansies”, but it had become an endearing name to me and I didn’t mind.

Then he was was gone.

Reaching Out

When I was eight years old I had my tonsils out. I remember not feeling very bad the first day I got home, but by day two I was miserable.

My parents had pulled out the hide-a-bed in the t.v. room so I could watch movies and so they would be closer to me while I recuperated. My mom spent the first two or three nights sleeping on the pull out bed with me so she would be close if I woke up and needed her.

The second night I did wake up in the middle of the night in a lot of pain. I still remember lying silently in the dark as tears streamed down my face and into my ears and I felt like I had a pile of broken glass in my throat. It was more pain than I had ever been in up until that point and I felt helpless.

I could feel the warmth coming from my mom who was asleep right next to me. I knew I could just reach out and tap her on the shoulder and she would happily get up to get me medicine, a popsicle, or just hold me as I cried, but for some reason I didn’t. I didn’t want to wake her. I felt like I had to endure the pain on my own. I laid there crying for what seemed like hours until I finally drifted back to sleep.

I thought about that time yesterday as I sat in a Women’s Conference yesterday and the speaker talked about his mother being there for him during a time he most needed it. My mother had also done all she could to be available to me when I needed her, but I had not done my part to let her know when that time had come and we both missed out.

It made me think about how many times in my life I had missed out on other’s willingness to help when I needed it. I could certainly think of times when I had made offers of help to friends, but because I didn’t know exactly how to help and they didn’t tell me, nothing came of it.

I am sure I will still be on both sides of this scenario many times in my life, but I am hoping that by being aware of it my heart will soften and I will humble myself and ask for help when it is offered and that I will be more in tune to the needs of those around me.

In Seven Years

Seven years ago today this little girl taught me that my capacity for physical pain was far greater than I ever thought when she raced into this world with no regard to my hollering, “Epidural!”

She showed me that she has things to do and places to go. Right now. She was born half an hour after I slipped on my hospital gown.

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In the following weeks she taught me endurance, determination, and faith as we put our house up for sale, suffered through mastitis (yes, we ALL suffered through that), colic, ear infections, and the flu, packed up our three bedroom home, said goodbye to dear friends, and moved three states away all by the time she was six and a half weeks old.

If I thought I was a pro with the first two kids I was wrong. In this child’s first month of life I found myself simultaneously making my one and three year old lunch, talking the phone, and loading the dishwasher. While nursing.

I gained a new level of strength as I carried her in her car seat on one arm, carried my not yet walking one year old on my opposite hip, and dragged my three year as she clung to my belt loops. I was convinced I could handle Target without help and I did.

She showed me that it is okay for a baby to prefer grandma over mom. It makes grandma feel really good and at the end of the day it is mom that gets the final smile as she drifts off to sleep.

In the seven years since since she raced into this world-into the hands of the astonished on-call doctor-she has lifted my spirits when nothing else could, shown me a compassion I didn’t know young children could possess, softened my heart when it wanted to be cold, shared the wisdom of her fresh from God eternal spirit, and raised my joy beyond my greatest expectations.

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I hope you will still be dancing on the beach when you are my age.

I love you forever A. Lynn.

Feeling Safe

I was lying on the couch tonight watching Home Alone with the kids. Kai was rolling around on the floor, unable to hold still. He was antsy. It was just after 6pm and he had not had a nap. It is hard to squeeze one in with our church schedule so I was trying to keep him awake long enough that I could just put him down early for the night.

I started to doze off when something slammed into my head, knocking my glasses askew. I braced myself before I fell off the couch and then I was slammed again.

Kai was running at me from the other side of the room and grabbing my head and then backing up and doing it again. He was making a frustrated sound and I could see that he (nor I) was going to be able to finish the movie.

I carried him upstairs and laid him in his bed, even though I knew it would mean he would be up late tonight.

“Lay by me mom,” he said, in the way that only I understand.

I laid down by him in his bed and he grabbed my neck and squeezed it tight. He was asleep in less than one minute.

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As I held my warm, sleeping, freshly-turned three year old, I thought of a meeting Brett and I attended recently to learn about some assessments that had been done on Kai to see if he qualified for a preschool and speech therapy program.

When he was being tested he completely lost it. Completely. I was across the room talking to the psychologist. The speech therapist and preschool teacher were with Kai in a corner of the room asking him to count some beads. I could hear in his voice, behind me, that his frustration level was building, but I didn’t want to interfere.

The protests escalated to crying and exclamations of defiance.  It was nothing I hadn’t heard on a daily basis, but it was unsettling to hear it in that setting.

Soon Kai came running across the room and jumped on my lap and squeezed me while hiding his head against my shoulder. I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted them to be able to finish their assessment and I didn’t want to interfere, but he was very agitated.

I stood up and took his hand and walked him back to the table he had been sitting at. I sat him down and talked gently to him to calm him down. Nothing helped. He did not want to count beads and he was not going to do it. Each time I tried to sit him down on the chair or redirect him for the camera he was trying to grab, he lashed out at me with his little fists. One time he lunged at me like he was going to bite me, but the teacher caught him and he missed his mark.

His eyes were red and tears streaked down his face and I couldn’t catch his eye or connect with him. I was near tears myself, but was trying desperately to keep control while surrounded by therapists, teachers, and the psychologist.

We finally were able to redirected him to an art easel and we quickly finished our meeting.

Two weeks later, as I sat across from the same group of women that had witnessed Kai’s breakdown, we were told he had made it into the program. As we talked I asked them about why he lashes out at me as he had at the previous meeting. I felt hurt that he always chose to hurt ME when he was frustrated or upset and I wanted to know what I was doing wrong.

One of the therapists paused and then looked at me and said, “He feels safe with you. He knows that no matter what he does to you, you will still love him and protect him and care for him. He needs to get it out, so he turns to the person he most trusts. You are his safe place to fall.”

Duh. (sniff)

As I lay in bed with him tonight I thought about that again, as I have many times since then. It hasn’t stopped me from getting angry when I get smacked in the head. It hasn’t kept me from raising my voice or sending him to him room when I just can’t take it anymore. (Although, it has stretched my limits a smidgeon.)

But it has made me view it in a new perspective. A much better and a much broader perspective. I am grateful to be the one that he trusts enough to know that I will show him love and forgiveness when he needs it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I sat in church today listening to a lesson on trusting in the Lord (and others) it made me think about how this same concept applies to all the members of my family.

I cringe at times at the things I hear my children say to each other in a moment of anger. I cringe at times at what I hear MYSELF say at times when I am angry, whether to my kids or my husband. Sometimes we use a tone with each other that we would never use to our friends, coworkers, neighbors or even a stranger. When I see my daughter grab her brother in frustration and pinch him I find myself repeating, “You would never do that to your friends!”

Well, of course she wouldn’t. She knows her brother is going to walk away and come back fifteen minutes later excited to share a new plan to rule the world (or the house). He will forgive her and look at her with adoration again long before the fingernail marks have disappeared from his arm.

This doesn’t mean that I think treating each other poorly is okay. I don’t. I would love for unkind words to never be spoken again in our family. We do show each other love much more frequently than not, but there are those times we are weak and we regret the things we say.

As my family learns to curb our tongues and watch our tones we also learn about love and forgiveness. We learn to say “I’m sorry” and we learn to say “It is okay, I still love you.”

I have watched so many of my Facebook and blogging friends write about what they are thankful for this month and I have not chimed in.

This month, I am grateful for my family and for feeling “safe”.

Love Is A Beautiful Thing

I was sixteen years old and spending the afternoon at the mall with my parents and grandparents. I wasn’t one of those kids that was embarrassed to be the youngest in the group. (By thirty years!)

We window shopped, chatted, and I probably held hands at some point with each of my grandparents.

We ate lunch at my grandma and grandpa’s favorite place, Taco Time. We were relaxing on the benches next to the food court when my grandma decided to walk over to the bakery across the wide hall and get some cinnamon rolls.

gramsShe would have been in her late 70’s. I am sure she had on solid colored pleated polyester pants in a pretty pastel with a coordinating button up top with a catchy pattern, topped with a cardigan. I don’t remember every detail, but I know she had on a long necklace, probably beaded, and matching clip-on earrings, because she always did. Her hair and makeup would have looked perfect. She would have had on comfortable, if not bulky, walking shoes with crisp white anklet socks and a medium sized purse with short straps slung over one arm.

Grandpa put his arm around me and gazed ardently at grandma as she walked across the hall and stood in line.

“Isn’t she beautiful,” he whispered.

I don’t think he saw the pastel, the L’Oreal, or the Aqua Net covered curls. He didn’t notice if the purse was alligator skin or vinyl. The necklace was just one of many he had given her.

She turned to wave and gave us one of her magnetic smiles.

Yes. Yes. She was beautiful.

A Hard (and Painful!) Lesson Learned

The kids got new rollerblades last weekend. They have been saving their money and talking about it for weeks. Brett and I decided to kick in the remainder of cash they needed to ease the disappointment of a cancelled trip to Utah.

We laid out the rollerblades and padding and explained each piece of equipment. We showed them how to put everything on and make sure it was secure. I drilled it into their fragile little heads how much trouble they would be in if I caught them skating without their pads, and most importantly, their helmets. I told them all the ways they could get hurt if they forgot to take the safety measures that they were being taught.

Then we took off. I had a blast skating with them even though I hadn’t worn my rollerblades in years.

We skated each of the next few days and I was feeling good about my balance and proud that I hadn’t fallen once despite being out of practice.

When Kai slammed into me from behind with his bike causing me to flip up and back onto the pavement, landing on the back of my head, I thought, “You idiot.”

After all my nagging to the kids about pads and helmets I thought I was okay with just my wrist guards and knee pads because I “knew how to fall”.

After laying stunned in the road for a couple of minutes and thinking, “What have I done?” I shakily got up and took Kai in the house.

The kids hadn’t been skating long and they were doing so well and I knew they would be disappointed if we stopped so I put my helmet on and went back out. My head was still numb and I skated slowly around with them for a few minutes until I realized I felt like I needed to throw up. I didn’t, but it made me realize it was time to go lay down.

I spent the next 21 of 24 hours in bed with a horrendous headache and feeling exhausted and thinking how lucky I was that it wasn’t worse.

As a mom of four I should have realized sooner that it was just as important for me to protect myself (their mother) as it was for me to make sure they were protected. I have a responsibility to them to keep myself as safe and healthy as I am trying to keep them.

I am sure as the headache and nausea fade over the next few days it will give me ample time for me to think about how hypocritical my actions were to my kids.

Lesson learned!

The Important Things

The broken laptop was the last straw for me tonight.

I had been wanting a laptop for a long time and was kindly given an older one a few weeks ago that did everything I needed it to. I could read my email and friend’s blogs as I settled in for bed, or write in my journal or look up “sandboxes” on Craigslist. It was perfect!

I walked into my bedroom tonight and Kai said, “look Mommy!” and pointed to the laptop with several buttons from the keyboard scattered around the room.

photo Brett tinkered with it for nearly an hour and determined that too many pieces were snapped off and not a single key could be replaced. We are still not sure if it can be repaired or used again.

I smoldered at the dinner table while I thought about the computer. I also thought about the pen that Kai had snapped in half yesterday, dumping half of the ink on my carpet and the other half on my favorite quilt.

I could not get the kids in bed fast enough and then I aggressively cleaned my kitchen in a huff. It didn’t make me feel better.

As I walked through the living room on the way downstairs I stopped at the piano. When I really need to unwind or let off some steam, pounding it out on the piano is just what I need.Kai

I didn’t have anything in mind to play so I reached into one of my bags stuffed with music and pulled out a book. I threw it up on the piano and flipped it open to one of the songs I was familiar with. As I started to play I felt the tension leaving, but the sadness building. It took me a minute to realize that I was playing a song that I played years ago at the funeral for a baby girl. The mother was the little sister of a friend of mine and it was her second child and her second funeral as a mother. It was also the last child they would have because of their fear of burying another baby. I don’t remember all of the details, but because of an incompatibility genetically, their chances of having a baby that did not get terminally sick were very low. I remember keeping it together as I viewed their beautiful baby girl in her coffin, as I played “Love One Another” as the family entered the chapel, as I played “In the Arms of His Love” as a special number, and as I played, “Families Can Be Together Forever” as the coffin was carried to the hearse. As soon as the chapel doors shut behind the last family member I collapsed into tears.

I went straight home and scooped up my three babies and smothered them in kisses.

I also smothered Kai in kisses tonight as I went to check on him a couple of hours after putting him to bed. He had awakened and Lincoln had just finished reading to him. He was finally drowsy again and starting to drift off to sleep. He gave me a tired half-smile and wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.

“I love you Kai,” I said.

“Yuh you too,” he softly replied.

I thank a loving Heavenly Father for guiding me to pull out my old piano book tonight so that I could be reminded of the blessings in my life. Carpet, quilts, and computers are temporary. I would give them all up in a heartbeat for the promise of endless more nights of hugs, kisses, and “I yuh you too"’s.

You Probably Noticed

“You probably noticed that I got new glasses,” my kindergartner said to a boy from her class.

We had joined a family in town for a Memorial Day barbecue and I couldn’t help but notice my daughter’s attempts to catch the eye of her classmate.

“Mmmm, sure,” he replied without turning his head to see new glasses that she was referring to. He couldn’t have been less interested.

I saw disappointment briefly flash across her face before she shrugged and skipped away to find someone else to show her new frames to.

I wanted to take the little boy’s hand and turn him around and point to her glasses and say, “See! See how cute they are? Don’t they frame her eyes so beautifully and bring out the natural blush color in her cheeks? Can’t you see that?!”

I cared more than she did. I didn’t want her to feel hurt or rejection, until I realized…she didn’t. She had moved on. She was now singing and twirling in the other corner of the yard.

How many times have I told my children, “don’t worry what anyone else thinks!”? Too many. I am now wondering if caring what others think is something kids learn from adults.

Next time someone hurts my feelings I am going to try shrugging, smiling, and skipping off. I think it will feel great!

Son of a…

I made a new goal today. My goal is to start cussing more.

Yes, you read that right.

I realized today that my inner me and my outer me are a little out of sync. My inner me cusses like a sailor and my outer me cringes at the utterance of most swear words.

My internal voice has had the vocabulary of a Hell’s Angel since my early teenage years, but rarely does it break free and slide past my lips. I am sure most (with the exception of a couple of friends from my middle school years) would be surprised by this. Even my husband will be surprised by this.

Things are about to change, damnit!

I have good intentions with this resolve. I figure if I release a little bit of the steam once in awhile it won’t build up to an onslaught of profanity worthy of a college football tailgate party inside my head.

The other day, In a moment of extreme frustration, I let a word slip (twice! Oops.) that I abhor. It is one I have made a major stink about when Brett has let it fly so he seemed more than a little stunned when it flew out of my mouth. And then out it flew again. It was probably the first time he heard me use it. (If only he had known how common it was inside my head, he may have recovered his speech quicker!)

So here I go. My little experiment might result in an even more abject inner dialogue, but “Hear! Hear!” for good intentions!

From A Park Bench

The baby was asleep in his car seat so I read in the front seat of our van while the kids played on the play structure that was about thirty feet away from where I sat. I had the windows rolled down so I could hear them squealing and laughing as they played.

I glanced up from time to time to see to see the kids chasing up the stairs or racing down the slides. Their heads bobbed in and out of the various tunnels and tubes.

One time I looked up to watch them playing hide and seek with a young boy and girl who had arrived with their mother. I waved to the mom to show her that I was close by and watching them.

The next time I looked up I saw an old man standing at the corner of the park with his little dog.

A few minutes later he was walking very slowly down the sidewalk next to the playground. His dog running circles around him as he puttered along.

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Then he was sitting on the park bench just a few feet away from my children.

His sweats were rolled up high above his ankles and knee socks were scrunched down, leaving a few inches of skin peeking out between them. He had a fanny pack on over an oversized Mickey Mouse sweatshirt. The old golf cap was pulled low and silver hair was poking out the back.

I didn’t look back down, but watched him as he watched the children play. I had an uneasy feeling. He hadn’t taken his eyes off my kids since I saw him standing at the corner. What was this man doing at a playground without children or grandchildren with him?

I had just read an article the week before about a convicted child molester who had been discovered hanging out at a city pool watching the children. Possibly looking for his next victim. He had gone day after day and sat on a bench watching until finally one of the regulars got concerned and had him checked out, thank goodness.

I got out of the car and walked a little closer as one of my children got close enough to him to ask him about his dog.

“Oh, she is friendly. You can pet her.” a shaky high-pitched voice responded.

It wasn’t an old man. It was a woman.

My heart instantly softened and my mind was filled with pictures of a lonely widow who came to the park to watch the kids play as she thought of the years she had raised her own children. 

I stepped back to my van, still in listening distance of the conversation. My other two children had joined them by this time and she was directing them on how her dog liked to be scratched behind the ears.

I felt shame.

I don’t like to misjudge people and I don’t like to jump to conclusions. It made me wonder why I had felt so alarmed when I saw this person near my children. I am sure the article I read had something to do with it, but it didn’t make me feel any better. It shouldn’t have mattered whether it was a man or woman watching the kids, but for some reason my reaction was different as my perspective changed.

This happened last summer and I still think about it. How often do I misjudge others? What can I do to keep my children safe, without letting my worry for them interfere with a realistic view of the world and those around me?

As a parent it is my responsibility to figure out the balance between guarding and protecting my children and letting them discover their surroundings and develop who they really are.

I am a little bit better at it now than I was last summer.