February 29, 2012


Since K was born almost six years ago, I have not had more than 24 hours away from my children. And most of those times away were things like staying in the hospital to have S and getting kidney stone surgery. Not really relaxing experiences.

All that changed last weekend!

My friend and college roommate, Joni, moved to Nashville about six years ago (so I haven't seen her since before I had kids). She owns a house, has a guest room and knows a lot about the city, so I decided for all these reasons that it was time for a visit-without kids or husband. (I would have loved to have James with me, but it was nice to have a bit of alone time and girl time. And it was a lot easier on the kids to have me gone with their Dad around to take care of them.)

My next couple of posts will be about my trip, starting with Day 1:

[S and I at Dunkin Donuts before my flight.]

I left Chicago around 11am on Friday. My flight was delayed due to the very, very rare snow of this winter. I couldn't believe that the ONE time I'd be flying in years we'd have snow, after almost none up to this point in the year. My mom scared me good on Thursday because she had heard we would get nine inches, possibly by the morning of my flight! Thankfully, that prediction was wrong and I only had a one hour delay. James and the kids drove me and then I was on my own!

I got a seat between two fun people and had lots of conversation before and during the flight. One man was an "oil and gas man" from Tennessee via Texas, who travels all the time and knew everything about flying, the plane, airlines, etc. The other was an 80-year-old woman from a farm in Nebraska going to visit her daughter, who recently got divorced and is redoing her kitchen. I didn't get any reading done, but it was a fun flight!

Nashville was about 20 degrees warmer than Chicago, and had no snow, it was nice! Joni picked me up and we had a nice lunch before she had to return to work. I spent the afternoon in the GORGEOUS Nashville library, reading and exploring. So it was pretty much heaven!
[Marble staircases]

[Reading Room, aka "a little piece of heaven".]

[View from my seat.]

[Library courtyard]

[Front of the library]

After Joni got off of work, we went to her house so I could see it and drop off my stuff. We got a couple more hours to chat before meeting her friends for a sushi dinner. It was so great to have conversations with Joni and later with her group of friends with no kids interrupting or need to leave so the baby-sitter could go home! After dinner, we went to a sort of pub called the Taproom to hang out more. I felt like such a grown up!

The day ended late, but I got the rare privilege of knowing that I would sleep uninterrupted and get to sleep in as late as I wanted. If the trip had ended there, I would have been more than happy, but I still had three days left!

February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

Usually, Valentine's Day isn't a big deal in our family. We might do cards or candy or something, but not much. For some reason, this year is a bit different. Maybe in part because K is more in tune to holidays and loves whatever a holiday has to offer to make live a bit different for a day. Since we're homeschooling, I try to do more crafts and hands-on things. I'm not much of a crafter, though I can appreciate the artistic element. Anyway, this Valentine's Day has included a few crafts, decorations and made goods.

I found this decoration idea on Pinterest. You just cut a paper plate (I already had red plates leftover from Christmas, they suggested painting white ones) in a swirl, punch a hole in the top, run a piece of yarn from the punch down to the bottom and hang. I added a paper heart and the website suggested adding hearts, beads and anything else. I was too lazy for most of that. And K gave me a lot attitude about helping, so that drained most of the fun out of it!

This was another Pinterest idea-Pretzel Buttons. Super easy snack to make, with the exception of unwrapping all the Hershey's Hugs. The hard part was finding Hugs and Valentine colored M & M's the day before Valentine's (because I didn't have a chance to shop before then). But I did find it and made these for all my boys.

I also made these. Another Pinterest find. It sure works well for generating ideas! And, like the decoration, didn't cost me anything. 

This is the sweet idea James had for Valentines from the boys to me. They wrote on the outside of little metal mailboxes,

then made a bunch of hearts, lips and other things out of construction paper. They wrote sweet things and K told me they kissed the paper a lot before loading up the boxes. There were a few gumdrops mixed in as well; some real sugar to go with all their sweetness!

It's been a fun little Valentine's Day here. Now I'm wrangling three boys all day because I'm baby-sitting my nephew while my sister works the Valentine's Day rush at the florist. Good thing I got a little sweetness to start my day, because the rest of it will be crazy!

February 11, 2012

Mommy LoJack

For some reason (I blame the fact that he was an emergency c-section and spent the first four hours of his life away from me), K is overly attuned to everything about me. I can't even tell you how many times I have woken up early in the morning, amazed to find that the kids did not wake me up first, starting to fantasize about having a few minutes to myself, only to immediately (or within two minutes) hear the patter/stomp of K's feet heading to me. And he always heads straight to me in the morning. He rarely does anything else before coming to wake me up and never goes to James. As a baby, he never sat quietly in his crib. He woke up screaming and didn't stop until I was there and taking him out of that accursed crib!
[K and I taking a much needed nap shortly after he came home from the hospital.]

I've said that he has a Mommy LoJack on me. You know LoJack, right? It's an anti-theft device that is put into your car so that it can be tracked wherever it is. K has me Lojacked!
[Couch cuddling, when K was three.]

Sometimes it has been sweet. When I was pregnant with S, I would often wake up uncomfortable in the middle of the night. I'd have to get up to stretch or get food or whatever I had to do to try to relax and alleviate my aches and pains. Or I'd be up worrying about the birth or whatever else. So many of those nights (and maybe all, I can't remember) K would come out shortly after I did. He just knew I was up. His room wasn't right next to mine, I didn't have the TV on, and sometimes just had one dim light on. But it was like he could feel me being awake. He usually was very sweet and helpful at these times. He'd rub my back or feet, or help me stretch by sitting his thirty-something pound body on my back for counter pressure. Those times were nice.
[9 months pregnant with S.]

Just this week I had another funny Mommy LoJack encounter. Or, rather, James did. I came home from work when K was in a quiet time in his room because of a bad attitude. James didn't want K to know I was home and use it as an excuse to come out of his room or get himself all upset again in an attempt to gain sympathy or get out of his forced rest. So I came in very quietly, didn't say a word, and went straight to my room. James said one or two quiet sentences to me when I came in, but that was it.

As soon as I was in the room, K called to James (and James told me the following exchange).

K: "Daddy, is Mommy home?"
J: "No."
K: "Oh. Who were you talking to?"
J: "Simon."
K: "You used the same voice that you use for Mommy, though."
J: Laughing, "Oh! That's weird."
K: "Are you sure Mommy's not here? I thought I smelled her." [This cracked me up. He can SMELL my entrance!?!?!]
J: "No, she's not home yet."
K: "OK."

When his quiet time was done about 15 minutes later, he didn't question my being there or whether James had lied to him. But he certainly seemed to know right away that I was home!

[On the ferry to Vinalhaven Island, Maine, August 2011.]

February 8, 2012

Life Lessons Essay

Since the essay I submitted to Real Simple's Life Lessons essay contest did not win (I would by been notified by a month ago, so it's safe to assume it's not going to be published), I'm posting it here  now. The  theme we were to write about was "When did you first understand the meaning of love?" I didn't want to do anything cliche and write about falling in love or marriage, since I was sure there would be lots of stories like that. So instead I chose to write about my relationship with my sister during a very difficult period in her life and what I learning about loving someone through crisis. Without further ado:

One of my earliest memories (I was not quite three) is of my sister joining our family.

She was “born on vacation”-my mom went into labor while we were at a cabin on Lake Michigan, where we went every summer when I was young. My parents had to make the two and a half hour drive back to the hospital and doctor in Illinois and I stayed in Michigan with my Grandma. I don’t remember much about the separation from my mom and dad. Standing in front of what seemed like a giant wall of toys to pick out something for my sister is my only cognizant memory of the time. Most clear is the moment when the three of them came back to the cabin. I ran up the endless flight of wooden stairs from the beach to see this new little creature, my sister, for the first time.

As I ran, I let my hands graze the wooden handrail and got dozens of splinters in my palms due to my error of haste. The splinters meant I wasn’t allowed to touch my baby sister when I finally arrived at her side. My next memory is getting the splinters taken out (naturally, THAT experience made it into the permanent memory bank!). And through it all I remember my feelings of excitement at being a big sister.

People joke about opposites in families or other relationships, but my sister and I fit the bill to a T. We look alike enough; you can tell right away that we are related. And we sound exactly alike! Our children have, on more than one occasion, been soothed by what they thought was their mom’s voice, only to realize that it was their aunt. But in most other ways, we couldn’t be more different.

I am cautious, studious, stoic, reserved, and shy. I learn by watching, avoid unnecessary risks, am the peacemaker and tend to make “right” decisions. I have a daring side, like to have fun, and have a silly sense of humor, but I would be described as dependable more often than fun. I am the one who got married at twenty-one and was the first in my family to graduate from college, but I’ve also been skydiving and gotten my navel pierced!

She is extroverted, unpredictable, fun loving, risk-taking, emotional, and sensitive. She has a very responsible and take-care-of-business side that impresses me greatly but most people wouldn’t describe her as responsible and logical. Blonde jokes are regularly aimed at her, but she isn’t even in her thirties and already has a savings account, numerous other investments, and follows a budget as a single, working mother who is also going back to school!

I learned a lot from my sister growing up. Most of it was an anecdotal lesson in what NOT to do. We spent a lot of years at odds with each other. Fighting (screaming, physical fights) did not happen in our immediate family. But we had our share of disagreements, silent treatments, passive aggressive battles, etc. All I had to do was mention her trouble in school to make her feel bad, and she could turn around and make fun of my acne and big glasses to bring out all of my insecurity.

By the late 90s, we were able to become friends again. We bonded over tough financial times when my father lost his job and family crises like chronic illness and the loss of loved ones. It was nice.

In 2000, my sister began her first serious dating relationship. She was at school in Wisconsin and I was in Illinois preparing for my 2001 wedding. We didn’t keep in touch much. I met her boyfriend the day before my wedding. He seemed OK. Young and immature, but OK. And she seemed happy. I had no idea what was really going on, or what lay ahead for her, and our family.

The next couple of years were a steady, nauseating, dizzying downward spiral for my sister. Most of the worst things you can imagine she did, had done to her, or somehow fell into. From the “minor” (having her debit card stolen, losing jobs) to the major (abuse, addiction, loss of reputation, bankruptcy). Our family went through a lot by proxy. She was a whirlwind of drama, fear, sadness, depression, mania, addiction, lies, pain and so many other things.

I tried to help in whatever way I could. Not knowing what she was going through personally, I just had to guess at what might help her. I hope that I got it right at least sometimes! I know I failed a lot of the time. I carried all the ups and downs with me, and still do carry some of them.

After years of this struggle, we were all worn down. After years of trying to be there and love her, I often felt used and abused by her and her circumstances. It felt hopeless, to be honest. So many tears were cried for her. The fact that many of the circumstances she faced were on my list of worst nightmares didn’t help. It’s always uncomfortable to face your fears, even when you are facing them through someone else’s life. On top of that, I started to feel she was taking advantage of my concern. My advice was ignored. I was one moment the sounding board and refuge for her mangled emotions, and the next moment a burden and loser who didn’t deserve to hear the truth, or even know what was going on in her life. At least that was how I felt.

It was confusing and painful. I wanted to give it all up. I sort of wanted to give her up as a lost cause. When you have someone who uses up so many of your resources on a daily basis, you start to wonder whether it is even safe to have them in your life. How can one person have and take so much when there are so many other people in the world (or even just your immediate family) who have needs as well? How long should you care for and help someone who never gives back, and often doesn’t seem to realize the depth of what you are doing and feeling on her behalf?

As a person of faith, the duty and opportunity I feel I have to express love in difficult situations is very much a part of who I am and my thought process. In ruminating over the way love is described and shown by biblical figures (specifically God and Jesus), eventually, thankfully, I was given the answer to this family conundrum that had sucked up hours of my waking and sleeping: it didn’t matter if she EVER understood what I was doing for her, ever reciprocated, ever thanked me, ever showed me any love in return. My love for her shouldn’t be conditional and was completely my responsibility.
The forgiveness and grace I’ve been shown by God has no condition attached to it. Forgiveness for liars, tax collectors, murderers-none of it really makes sense, yet I believe it has been freely given. God showed me that I had a chance to extend some of that difficult, makes-no-sense forgiveness and love that is set forth in so many of the bible’s stories in a real life setting.

It was a revelation, to say the least.

But it was liberating. I could finally love my sister without all of the caveats and reservations that had troubled me for years. I could move beyond what came naturally and do what needed to be done. I could make the effort without worrying about my reward, or whatever unexpected or unexplainable backlash might result from my actions or words.

My love for her, in many ways, had nothing to do with her. At least in the sense that her actions didn’t mitigate or negate the love I should show her as a family member, friend and person.

In embracing an unconditional love, things did not improve immediately. We still had years of struggle ahead. But my internal fight about what to do, what to say, how to help, etc. became a dull ache for my sister’s release from her pain and a true empathy.

Years later, we now have a better relationship that is more reciprocal. The splinters we’ve received and caused are healed, or at least healing. Instead of a constant stream of drama and fear, there is much more peace. Nine years ago I couldn’t have imagined sitting serenely on the shores of Lake Michigan and playing in the water and sand with my sister and our kids, in the same manner that we did as children. But this summer, we did. 

February 7, 2012

You can't make this stuff up!

Last week I had a few very strange things happen. Those moments where you can't help but laugh and where you have to stop and say, "Did that really just happen?"

The first was while I was walking down the hall of the University where I work. There was some type of event happening in one of the banquet/meeting rooms and a few older people were leaving. I passed a white-haired woman getting her coat, then I had to look again. SHE was wearing a TOUPEE! Not a wig, because it didn't cover all of her head. She had very short hair at the back of her head, about two inches of it. On top of that, with a very different texture and color, was super straight hair that sort of curled at the edges. It looked exactly like a strange toupee plopped on top of her other hair!

When I left work that afternoon to walk to the bus, I was stopped by a nun. I know she was a nun because she told me. As I walked down the sidewalk, she was getting out of her car. She was tiny woman, probably in her seventies, with dark, short  hair. She called across the parking lot to compliment my hair. When I smiled and said thanks, she vehemently beckoned me over. Thankfully she didn't touch my hair at all (it's always weird when strangers touch you) but she wanted to discuss the virtues of curly hair and confirm that mine is naturally so. Then she felt the need to inform me that when she was little you could never leave the house without curly hair (which she was sure my grandmother had informed me of) and she always wished for curls like mine. She told me she was a nun and taught at the school sometimes (it's a Catholic University, so nuns abound, though none of them wear habits) and was there for some meeting or something. She said a bunch of other inconsequential things, that I listened to politely and tried to interject a few contributing tid-bits of conversation while also starting to worry about missing my bus! I had to hurry, but I made it! My gorgeous hair getting me in trouble yet again. (Ha, ha!)

Right after my brush with clergy [Are nuns clergy? Wikipedia: No. So, brush with... the sisterhood?] , I found myself having to engage in my now weekly conversations with my bus boyfriend. He's about 70 as well, is missing most of his teeth and wears a very snazzy Sean John jacket (which he got at a great discount store on 63rd Street, and wears despite the fact that he is white). He works at a printing shop that makes circular ads. I learned on this particular day that he works 12 hour shifts and has a bone spur in his foot, among other things. His chatter mixed with a bright sun in my eyes made me miss my stop, but thankfully only by about a block and half. And the driver let me off at the train tracks, where he had to stop anyway, instead of making me wait until the next stop.

All my craziness of the day culminated in my mom bringing my kids to meet me as I walked home from the stop (including the back-tracking from getting off at the wrong place). That was a very fun way to end my work day-with hugs and chatter and kids bouncing all over the sidewalk. So, despite the fact that I was unable to use my super awesome earmuff phones that Kiah got me for Christmas, and that make walking in the cold actually very exciting, because it was so warm that day, my commute home was chock full of interestingness! As was the rest of the day.

(Me rocking out on a different day's commute, submitted as evidence of my wonderful earmuff phones, and my silliness.)