Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Can you pat my back?

At least twice a week, after I think my children may be asleep, my bedroom door slowly opens with my little man Benji on the other side.  He stands there, occasionally disoriented, looking at me calmly with wide, but sleepy eyes.  His usual request, "can you come pat my back?", falls softly from his mouth, surprisingly quiet for such a typically boisterous boy.  And, on most nights, I agree to check on him "in a few minutes" as long as he goes back to bed and stays in bed.

Tonight was no different.  Typing away in the dark, I didn't notice the door swing quietly open at first.  Then suddenly, a slight movement caught my eye and there he was...standing in the doorway yet again.  Clearly tired, but not fully ready to give up the battle, he quietly said, "Would you come pat my back?"  As usual, I responded, "I'll be there in a few minutes..."

Five minutes later, I quietly tiptoed into Ben's room.  Not a creature was stirring.  Ben was already fast asleep, looking content and peaceful.  Despite his slumbered state, I leaned in, patted his chest gently and kissed his forehead.  It is not entirely unusual...this falling asleep after requesting that I come in to pat his back or check on him.  I think, in the anticipation of my coming...in knowing I am near...there is a peace that falls over his little heart and mind, allowing the elusive sleep to settle in and make itself at home.  In this moment, I am reminded that this little sweetheart, the one who probably stretches me most, seems to constantly ride the line between desired independence and desperate need for reassurance.

And yet, isn't that true of so many of us?  We desperately want independence - the ability to stand on our own two feet - and yet we long for some reassurance that we are not in "this" - whatever the "this" may be - alone.

I know it is true for me.  I waffle, at times, between a sense of confident strength and the need for someone to stand with me...or, even, to carry me in a moment of weakness or frailty.  While I much prefer my "I am woman here me roar" strength, there are moments when my strength comes, in part, from what someone else is able to share with me.  At times, I just need to snuggle up into the arms of my Ken to regain the sense of calm that was somehow elusive only moments earlier.  Other times, I need my sister or a friend to share my heart with.  Even if they don't have the "fix", their presence in my life is a reminder that I am not walking alone.  Oddly enough, in this age of social networking, sometimes even a reassuring word or encouraging note from a far away friend can lighten the load that life can sometimes bear.  And, most often, when I take it, my time alone with God can renew my sense of purpose and of worth. 

I love that my little boy loves me.  I love that a word from me, as simple as, "I'll be there in a few minutes..." can bring him peace enough to sleep.  I love that he feels that way because of the relationship we have.  I love that it reminds me of the relationships I have with those who are my cheerleaders and champions...those in whom I know I can call on in a time of need.  And, I love that it reminds me of my eternal relationship that I have with the One who made me.  It reminds me that in my weakness, He is strong.  It reminds me that in my weakness, He gives me others to stand along side me...to stand in the gap or hold up my arms when I no longer can.  It reminds me that He will never leave nor forsake me...not when I am trying desperately to be independent (and, perhaps the one inadvertently doing the leaving or forsaking)....nor when I am in desperate need for His tangible presence to sustain me.

And with that, I, too, am going to go to bed.  As I go, I am calmly confident and reassured.  And, I trust that sleep will not be elusive tonight.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When I Grow Up...

Tuesday was my day off with Eliana.  Unfortunately I had to spend a good chunk of my time doing some busy, but extremely important, work and could not "play" as much as I would have liked.  And yet, Elly just hung out next to me most of the day.  Never far from reach, often expressing little encouragements, and simply being by her mom.

While we probably should have had a free lunch at home, we decided to go out to one of Elly's favourite places...you guessed it, McDonald's.  We weren't able to go until quite late due to said work that wasn't going quite as smoothly or quickly as I'd hoped.  But, Elly patiently waited, watching a bit of T.V. and chilling out next to me.

Clearly not McDonald's - just a fun shot!
At McDonald's, I watched Eliana with a sense of admiration.  When we pulled up, she confidently hopped out of the van in her fashionable gray sweater dress and gray tights.  She bounced into the restaurant with a light heart and a hint of confident, but respectful, sass.  At the counter, she chatted freely with the woman on the register and a man wearing dirty boots and a worker's jump suit.  She wondered where he worked to get such dirty boots.  She wasn't quite sure what to do when he replied that he drove a truck all around town and down dirt roads picking up garbage.  But, nonetheless, with a simple prompt she told him thank you for telling her where he worked.  She twirled for the register lady, showing off the dress that earned her a compliment from behind the counter.

Once we got the food, she eagerly went into the play area (ALWAYS my favourite place to sit!) and found a seat.  We were the only ones in there, but there clearly had been a rush earlier as a number of the tables were still dirty.  I gave her three choices from the clean tables available.  "This one has a little wet spot, but that's okay!" she smiled as she slipped into her seat.  She then gleefully pulled out her apples, chicken nuggets, chocolate milk and zooble toy.  You would have thought she was enjoying Christmas dinner and opening a special gift.  And she chatted away, commenting on big things and little things that many people don't even notice.  It caused me to comment, "You know what's cool about God?  He cares about the big things and the little things too.  Nothing's too big or too little for Him."  She briefly pondered this comment and then continued on, talking about her brothers and other things that made her happy.  While it may sound like "excessive" talking, it wasn't.  It was just fun.
Again....Not McDonald's.
"Do you think I should give my stomach a break and play for a little bit?" she sheepishly grinned and asked.  I normally say no to mid-meal play breaks, but what the heck?  "Sure," just be sure to wipe your hands really well before you go on and when you come back.  Up she popped, wiping her hands and skipping over to the play equipment.  While she played, an employee came in to wipe tables and clean up spilled milk.  As Elly scrambled off the end of the slide, she cheerfully greeted the young man.  "Hello!" she yelled.  And up she went again.  "Watch me drive, Mom!  Can you see me up here in the window?"  She chattered on about who knows what and the cleaning guy, who'd also seen us when we first came in, asked, "how old is she?"  "She's five...well, five and a half," I replied.  "Wow!  She sounds really smart," he said.  "Yep, she's a smarty," I replied, not totally sure what to say.  As he and I chatted about a variety of things...yes, I do often talk to the workers of fast food restaurants...she occasionally popped by and chimed in.  After a little while, cleaning guy said goodbye as he left the play area, thanking us for coming in to eat.  "Goodbye!  Thank you!" Elly yelled out her encouragement.

As we left McDonald's, I prompted Elly to say goodbye and thank you to the woman who helped us at the register.  She attempted without success two times and then scooted closer to the counter.  "Goodbye and thank you!" she cheerfully echoed.  "You are welcome!  And thank you!" said register lady.  And then Laquilla (I think that is the right name), the familiar manager, asked Elly if she would like a kiddy cone.  "Hooray!  A kiddy cone!" Elly said as she bopped over to the counter.  Again - Christmas in May!  "Tell Miss Laquilla thank you," I prompted. "Thank you, Miss Laquilla"...and then "Thank you, Miss Melanie" (aka register lady).  And out she went practically skipping, just as she came in.

As I watched Eliana, admiring her confidence, her positive attitude, her desire to connect and make others feel good, her joy and delight in the simple things, her sweetness, her charisma, her innocence, and her unabashed fun, it hit me.  "You know what, Eliana?" I said as I buckled her into her booster seat. "What, Mom?" she said licking the edges of her cone.  "When I grow up, I want to be just like you," I said.  She laughed and said, "Mom, you can't have blond hair like me!"  "No, no," I said, "I want to be like you" and then told her a few things that I saw in her that I liked.  Elly just grinned and started to bite her kiddy cone cone.

It is true.  As I grow up...or at least grow older...I would love to be more like what I saw in Elly today, and most days, actually.  And, I would love to be more like what I saw in my Grandma.  It is possible.  He's not finished with me yet.  He's begun a good work in me and will be faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6).  I'm sure of it!
Definitely not McDonald's! But how fun and free spirited is that?!?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

As Fine As Frog's Hair

I hope this finds you fine as frog's hair!  That's how my Grandma Mader used to start nearly every letter or card she wrote to me.  It always struck me so funny and brought to mind images of frogs with fine wisps of hair and wee little combs to manage it.  I've never heard anyone else use this phrase of endearment and, until today, I'd have been shocked to ever hear it again.  I am sure now, however, after this post, it will become a household greeting that sweeps the nation.

This past weekend, I spent a lot of time getting dirty with my kids.  Digging...planting...finding worms...finding frogs (make that toads)....and fishing off the dock.  In the midst of this dirty play, I found myself thinking a lot about my Grandma Mader.  It kind of caught me by surprise.  My grandma has been gone for a long time now and, because of living so far away for so many years, I didn't see her very often in the many years prior to her passing.  In fact, there are days when I grieve that my memories of her are not clearer...that I didn't really get to know her when I was old enough to really appreciate her.

My Grandma and Grandpa Mader, one of the cutest couples you would ever meet, lived in the small town of Antigo, Wisconsin.  Antigo, about a four hour drive from where I grew up, was, and for all I know may still be, one of those towns that just felt like a step back in time to simpler and quieter days.  It was the land of baseball, hotdogs, apple pies, and Chevrolets...or so it seemed...with corner candy shops, a Dairy Queen, an old funny smelling department store, and flags flying in many yards.  In my mind's eye, I picture the old hospital, my Grandparent's church, the local park and swimming pool, the farms on the edge of town, and the houses along a tree lined street.  More than that, I picture my Grandparents' home and their cabin which, while a definite drive out of town and into the wooded countryside, seemed like an extension of "home" while we were there.  I picture the "kitch" and true treasures that my Grandma proudly displayed, African Violets, the lake, the art work and funny sayings hanging in halls and in the bathroom, and the enchanted woods of the Mader's Pleasant Acres.  The smell of my Grandpa's pipes, baking pastries and infamous kolaches, old home basement, and big ole artery hardening breakfasts linger in my memories.  The sound of ticking clocks - cuckoo, grandfather, chime - that kept me awake when I slept on the Davenport always seemed in contrast to the otherwise still and quiet home, rarely interrupted by any artificial "modern" noises (aka white noise), but often interrupted by a good story, laughter, a fish tale, or the sound of playing cards and poker chips.

One might wonder how in the world I went from digging in dirt to thinking of my Grandma.  To anyone who knew my Grandma, the leap is only a small one.  My Grandma was an amazing gardener and was often found with her hands in the dirt.  I believe she may well have been a plant whisperer.  Her home was surrounded by flower beds and rose bushes while she boasted two large gardens in her back yard.  I honestly can't recall all of the flowers, fruits, and veggies that she had planted.  In her basement, she had an African Violet mini-nursery.  She knew how to grow these often fickle plants, giving them just what they needed to grow - even in a basement.  Often, when I see a garden that is somehow impressive, I think or say outloud, "Man, Grandma would have loved to see this garden."  And just the other day, as my daughter was talking about Lady's Slippers, the Minnesota State Flower, I immediately thought of my Grandma walking with me in the enchanted forest pointing out this delicate looking flower.  Grandma Mader had a gift for growing.

Pulling up worms with the kids also made me think of Grandma.  She was no prissy, afraid-to-get-dirty grandma.  She could bait a hook and catch fish with the best of them.  In fact,  I'm not sure who enjoyed fishing more, my Grandma or my Grandpa. And, without a doubt, she had her share of tales about the ones that got away.  And, while she had her rules about fishing that had to be followed, she was almost always open to having a little one tag along in search of the elusive monster fish lurking just out of reach.  Grandma Mader had the guts for getting dirty.

Although it has nothing to do with dirt, I cannot think of my Grandma without thinking of her baking and hospitality.  One of the things that made the four hour drive to Antigo bearable to an antsy little girl, besides the 8-track tapes of Oklahoma (OOOOOklahoma where the wind - kuklunk - comes sweeping down the plains) and Roger Whittaker and mystery radio theater (ouch - just dated myself and revealed my geekiness!!), was knowing that upon arrival, I would be greeted with hugs, kisses, and fresh baked pastries.  To a child with a sweet tooth, it was almost paradise.  To top it off, nearly every meal was completed with some sort of sweet treat carefully crafted by loving hands.  I don't recall, though it may have happened, her ever "rationing" out her treats.  I do recall, however, her asking me to run a dish of goodies or a packaged up meal across the back yards to a neighbor in need.  And, I do remember that she didn't seem to waste a thing. Grandma Mader had a heart for hospitality.

My memories of Grandma Mader are not nearly as clear and neatly packaged as I wish they were.  I envy my sister's and older brothers' recollections of times they had with her and Grandpa.  Their stories seem much more coherent and vivid.  I regret not making a point to make a few extra long haul road trips to see them before it was too late to see them again.  Yet, the things that matter most will always linger in my mind and settle on my heart...the way my Grandma grew...not just flowers, but compassion and love toward others, and a creative spirit that encouraged me to run in her back yard, check out butterflies, and dare to try my hand at a new game of cards (and not get too bothered by my incessant singing while playing).   The way my Grandma got dirty...not just literally (in the garden, among the worms and the fish), but figuratively as well...surviving the Depression, living humbly and giving freely, sharing her faith and encouraging mine.   The way my Grandma showed hospitality and taught it to me...welcoming "weary" travelers, being prepared for someone to stop by unexpectedly or to give to someone in need, visiting those who needed a lift of spirit, always making me feel welcome and walking along side of me.

I was rejuvenated digging in the dirt this weekend.  I felt as if I had missed working the earth and digging for worms for far too long (odd, I know).  And, surprisingly, I was refreshed by the memories of an amazing woman who was unexpectedly brought to mind.  I hope the memories don't flee too soon.  I have much to learn from them and am not yet ready to let them go.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Parenting on the Edge

(not my geese - photo from northstar-realty.com)

I see her nearly every time I drive down this particular stretch of road.  She stands between the small lake and Marshall Road, with her mate nearby.  Their gazes seems to shift back and forth between the babies and the road, making sure they don't venture out suddenly.  At times, this mama goose and her man stand right on the edge of the road with babies in line as if waiting for an opportune time to cross.  I often cringe as I drive by, sometimes shouting in my head, "why on earth don't you move those little babies!?!".

These geese are living on the edge of a dangerous world...a moment of impulsive-gosling-road-dashing and their family size could diminish by one or two.  Yet those geese clearly love (as much as a goose can) their little babes and are doing their best to keep them safe in the place they have made home.  Oddly enough, I see other geese doing the exact same things along the sides of other roads and lakes.  It seems like the goose thing to do.

As a mom of my three amazing kids, I can relate to that mama goose.  In today's world, we are really living right on the edge of a dangerous world.  There are potential risks around every corner, aren't there?  Yesterday, in fact, I had a wee scare when I couldn't quickly find one of my kids who went outside just before dinner, leaving the immediate area without letting me know.  We searched in the house, we looked in the front and back of the house, and then I hopped on my bike and took a little ride through the neighborhood, knocking on one friend's door.  Although I knew my kiddo was likely fine, my mind started to jump to the possible dangers... what if he got hit by a car?  what if he wandered off to one of the lakes or ponds and somehow fell in?  what if someone grabbed him?  what if he rode his bike the wrong way and got disoriented?  what if....?

Thankfully, as I was heading back to the house, thinking I'd have to call Ken home early from a meeting, I heard his familiar voice call out, "hey mom!" as he came out of an empty lot that he'd been biking in (behind dirt mounds so that he was not easily seen and did not see me).   I was relieved, thankful, and a little ornary.  The relief and thankfulness won out over the ornary and I was able to calmly yet firmly express my concerns and remind my kiddo about rules and dangers and expectations. "I just don't want anything to happen to you," I kept repeating.

Some days, I feel like I just want to isolate my kids...take them and my hubby and move to some remote corner of the world where they can't be touched or tainted by the world and the influences therein.  I want to protect them from those who might bully them.  I want to protect them from the creepy guy who might suggest they send him something highly inappropriate on their cell phone.  I want to protect them from adults who think it's okay to do drugs with young kids, even their own children.  I want to protect them from the hurt that causes a suicide attempt that resulted in permanent brain damage.  I want to protect them from pressure or decisions that results in a 15 year old raising her 5 month old and, therefore, having a really tough time making it to school every day and living a typical teenage life.  I want to protect them from so many things that I encounter on a regular basis in the schools I work in (yes, those are all stories from my school, all of which occurred within the last few months).  And, I want to protect them from the things that just happen in life.  I wish I could take them and isolate them...but I can't.

When Ken and I were in Florida we learned about a certain bird nesting in the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  I'm not positive, but I think it was a yellow-crowned night heron.  Besides being a beautiful bird, it had a unique nesting strategy.  It chose to nest above the place where alligators often lie or nest, even if it was right next to the road.  The naturalist said that it nested above an alligator because the alligator keeps away other predators that could more easily sneak into the tree to steal an egg or a baby bird.  He said, although the birds had to be careful not to knock an egg or baby down to the alligator below, they would go to any length to keep those eggs and babies safe, even if it meant a less than comfortable place for them, above an alligator and next to the only road going through the refuge.  Funny that they would choose to live next to a road and above an alligator, rather than find a comfy quiet nest in the middle of the refuge or on a sunny spot (my favorite) in a mangrove tree at the edge of the water.  But, they somehow know that the seemingly most comfortable place isn't the best place for them to be.

As a mom, I would go to any length to keep my babies safe.  And yet, I need to live in the world where we are placed or where we have been led.  I clearly can't take them and isolate them away from the world...within that response, there would only be perceived safety.  I can't be with them every minute of every day - that certainly wouldn't be a safe idea for anybody, we would allll go a little crazy and make some not so great choices, I'm sure (chuckle chuckle) - they need the opportunity to make choices, grow and learn on their own, developing outside relationships along the way.  Part of keeping my babies safe is helping them to learn to navigate the world independently.

I can't isolate my children from the world.  But, I can love and protect my children as best I can, standing guard along the side the edge of the dangerous world (or, more precisely, in the dangerous world), watching for traffic and sending out warnings when necessary, ensuring they learn all the things they need to to become confident, caring adults of good character.  I can encourage them in their faith and help lay foundations of integrity, justice, humility, caring, and good choice making.  I can pray for them and pray with them.  I can point them to the One who created them.  I can hold their hands when they need me to and step out of their way when I should.  I can love them unconditionally, even when I don't like the condition of a choice they made.  I can provide a place to call home and a place to always come home to.  I can walk hand in hand with my husband as we parent, sharing in the joys and the frustrations, trusting that we both want the same things for our children.  I can ask others for help or encouragement when I need it to be the best mommy that I can be.  I can admit my mistakes and learn from them - and there are many to learn from.  And, perhaps more than anything, I can trust that God is with me through every step I take as a parent...even if, in a moment, I feel alone standing on the edge of something bigger than I can handle on my own.  He has gifted me with these three babes and wants the very best for them.

My three during our S'more cookout.  S'mores are really just the best!

I would love to relocate that sweet goose family to a place that seems safer than the side of a busy road.  My guess is they would find their way right back to where they are now.  It must be just the right place for them.  I won't relocate them, but I will expectantly watch for them each time I drive past.  And, I will hope with great hope that they grow up safe and sound, ready to return next year.

If you have a babe of your own, give them an extra squeeze from me.  If you don't have a babe of your own, encourage someone who does.  And, as always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Run, Kathy, Run!

As I wrote about Ben's first track meet, I found that I needed to sit for a while in my own teachable moment about not looking around when your running a race.  Rather than stick my thoughts in the middle of that entry, I thought I would add another one.  So here it is...

How often do I get distracted when running my races in life – as a person of faith, as a wife, as a mother, as an employee, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend?   It’s not surprising that I get distracted at times given all the roles I have.  I enjoy all the roles and would not want to give them up (except, at times, the employee bit).  But, far too often I forget to keep the main things, the main things.  Far too often, I get distracted by the “stuff” of life.   I get distracted by what others might think of me.  I get distracted by things that don’t even exist yet, a.k.a. the unknowns (what will happen when….?  What if I don’t have enough ….?  How will we ever …?)  I get distracted by things that don’t necessarily add to the joy of the moment or to the purpose to which I am called.  I get distracted by things that may not even be all that good for me (she writes as she grabs just one more Whopper Robin Egg from her left over Easter candy). And, yes, I can even get distracted by things that may seem entirely good.

Ultimately, I know that all of my life’s individual races or events fit into the culminating race of my faith journey – being called by and following in the footsteps of Jesus, living each day and moment to God’s glory and for the benefit of others.  I know this and yet, daily, I get tripped up, looking to the side to see who or what is going on around me.  Daily, I get distracted from this critical marathon of life.   

In fact, even writing this blog can be a distraction if it doesn’t somehow fit into my calling (in the moment or in the long run).  If I get so preoccupied in getting the words out that I miss the life going on around me, I am not keeping my eyes on the prize, but allowing "stuff" to get in the way.  Even if what I am doing is a good thing - exercise, ministry or building relationship with others - it can become loose gravel causing me to stumble if it stands directly in the way of my first callings to love and develop my family for God's glory.  If my motivation is wrong while I run - if I am consumed with "what will they think of me now?" - my sprint to the finish will be in vain as insecurity or pride weighs me down.  If I find myself comparing me to others or being critical of someone for no good reason, I know that my eyes must not be strained on the right thing.  When I caught myself wanting to get in on the gossip at work the other day, I knew I was tripping up in an ugly kind of way.  Needless to say, it was not the kind of finish I would want to have at work or in life.

God surely intended for us to enjoy this life - as evidenced by all the cool stuff He created.  He also intended for us to take care of ourselves and be healthy and well.  So, I don't want to be a stuffy, serious, and boring race runner who is so focused on winning that I forget to enjoy the scenery and those on the track with me.  That is far from what God intends for me and far from what I intend for myself.  And, yet, I need daily to dig into the race and focus on the things that will get me to the finish line in good standing – spiritual disciplines of reading scripture, meditating, and praying, as well as, relational "disciplines" of encouraging, loving, engaging, and serving.  Enjoying the race?  Absolutely.  Detrimentally distracted during the race?  I sure hope not.  Trusting that despite my flaws I can finish well? You bet!

Oh, and by the way, for all of those who have cheered for me along the way ("Run, Kathy, run!" "You can do it, Kathy!"  "Keep looking ahead!"), I am forever grateful.
1 Corinthians. 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.

Run, Ben, Run!

 Ben participated in his first track meet yesterday.  His first practice was earlier in the week and he is not yet completely sold on the merits of this sport yet.  This is not surprising, however, given that Ben would much prefer to hang out with his siblings, play video games, or do something with his friend across the street than participate in anything that might give the allusion of missing out on something better.  Nonetheless, off we went at 8:20 a.m. to race like the wind amongst 300 other young athletes. Remarkably, we were the first of our team to arrive at the track.  This act in itself was worthy of a ribbon!
I'm not entirely sure why, but the morning's events started off with the two longest races; the two longest, that is, with the exception for the extremely daunting 800 metre (1/2 mile) which is run at the very end by the die hard kids (or perhaps more aptly described, the kids of die hard parents who are living vicariously through them and urging them on).  I do not recall seeing Ben ever running 200 or 400 meters at a time before, at least not in a flat out run with no other purpose than running.  I'm sure he has easily gone these distances and more playing "Capture" at the cabin or tag in the back yard, but this was different and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The kids lined up out of my view half way round the track.  I couldn’t see Benjamin and I felt a little anxious about how he might be feeling…and how he might do.  Was he nervous?  Did he need me there to offer him starting block encouragement?  Would he remember to stay in his lane?  Would he keep looking straight ahead? What if he trips?  

The gun went off and I waited in anticipation for his jewel blue shirt to appear.  There he was!  From his staggered start position, he was moving up among his peers and then he was breaking out ahead.  I am sure I was yelling louder than any other parent in the crowd.  “Go, Ben, go!  Go!  Go!  Keep going!!!”  And then I saw him looking to the side…the thing I told him not to do…to see where everyone else was.  “Look ahead!  Keep going!  Don’t look back!” I continued to yell.  While looking to the side, Ben visibly slowed down slightly, seemingly unconcerned about winning, but appearing comfortable and at ease on the track.  As he ran past, I ran with him.  I am sure I looked a bit silly with my big ole camera bag - a banana resting on top - flung over my shoulder, running with camera raised, and yelling my pretty little head off.  “Go, Ben, Go!!!  Eyes ahead!  Run!”   The banana fell off somewhere in my brief sprint and was later handed to me by a giggling mom. “You lost your banana,” she laughed.

In the end, Ben finished this 200 metre race in second place, behind a boy who passed him just after he started looking off to the side.  It was a proud moment for Ben and for me.  He'd done an excellent job on his first race!  It was a natural teachable moment for us both as well – “don’t look back when running your race.”  It's likely, had he not looked back, he would have made first place.  But that's okay!  

(*for some additional thoughts on this teachable moment as applied to me, click here.)

Moving up from his staggered start

Moving into the lead position
In the lead and looking off to the side..."will that guy in the red catch me?" or, perhaps, "hmmm, I wonder where Mom is."

2nd Place!!  First ribbon of the day and a proud moment.

By the time we left the track (we had to leave before the shuttle run and the dreaded 800 due to another commitment and the fact that the meet ran a little long), Ben finished with a ribbon in every event that he participated in.  In fact, he ended with the above mentioned 200 metre second place, one fourth place (in the 400 metre), and FOUR first places (100 metre, 100 * 4 relay, running long jump, and the baseball throw, which is the predecessor to the shot-put).   

AMAZING!!!  Was I ever a proud mama!  Not bad for a novice or for someone who really isn’t sure whether he likes track.  I am hopeful that Ben will decide that he likes… maybe even loves...the sport.  I know he feels good about doing well.  Yet, I hope along the way he finds he enjoys it even if he doesn’t win a ribbon every single time.  I hope that along the way that I can reassure him that I am proud of him even when he doesn’t place or come in first because he is looking off to the side, enjoying the moment, or simply has an "off" day.  I hope that along the way, he can develop a positive “work ethic” and perseverance toward something that doesn’t always seem fun.  More than anything, I hope that somehow, Ben can gain glimpses of God during his moments on the track and within this Mom cheering him on from the infield or stands.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lots of things make me smile each and every day.  And yet, I realize that I should find more reasons to smile.  When I'm having a particularly bumpy day, I occasionally force a smile - even a fake one - because, sometimes, just the feeling of a smile can make me feel better.  And, if my fake cheesy grin doesn't lighten my spirits, it is sure to give someone else a chuckle as they wonder what is wrong with me and my joker face. 

In addition to my usual smiles over the ordinary stuff, I thought I would share two other things that made me smile today.

Smile #1

This afternoon, I took two of my three kids swimming.  The other one I dragged along much to his chagrin.  He'd hoped I would let him stay alone, but "not tonight," I said, "we might need to run to the store afterwards and I don't know how late we will be."  After an uncharacteristic protest, he knew there was no escaping this fate.  Rather than swim, however, he chose to sit and work on one of his Superteam Comics.  While three of us "exercised" our bodies, he exercised his creativity.

At our YMCA, there is a Vortex pool.  The Vortex is an oval shaped current pool that allows you to exercise by working against the current or "go with the flow" and ride along in the current.  I, personally, enjoy getting a good work out against the current and then kicking back with a pool noodle for a relaxing float. 

Hanging out in the Vortex today was one of "the regulars".  This particular "regular" makes me smile every time I see him.  I don't know his name.  I don't know much about him at all.  What I do know is that he is a large young man, likely a teenager, who is loved by God and valued beyond measure.  My guess is that he has a diagnosis of a severe cognitive disability and autism.  I've never heard him say a word, but I hear him every time he is there.  I learned that this young man, along with some sort of support worker, comes pretty much every day to partake in this special daily routine.

The thing that makes me smile about this young man is the amazing enjoyment he clearly gains from his nightly plunge.  He spends an hour or more going around and around in that Vortex.  He slowly bobs up and down in the current, sometimes rolling over, sometimes completely submerging himself.  Much of the time, he vocalizes loudly, nothing specific,but clearly happy.  While he appears somewhat oblivious to others around him, he manages not to run into anyone else sharing the waterway with him.  Every so often, his support worker tosses him a ball, which he holds onto as he circles.  When he comes around to her again, he hands the ball back to her.  Much of the time, his face holds no readable expression.  But suddenly, without warning, he might break into a large grin with eyes that sparkle as if he is keeping the best secret ever.  My guess is, although he can't express it, he enjoys this experience more than anyone else in the Y.  Despite his "limitations", he is living these moments full out with unabashed delight.  He is literally soaking in the moment and living out loud.  Every time I see him, I am challenged, encouraged, and delighted.  Every time I see him, he makes me smile.

Smile #2

I love the great outdoors.  Unlike many women, I don't mind roughing it or getting a bit grimy.  Some of my favourite moments are those spent in nature.  Our Calgary home, therefore, was a bit of a stretch for me.  While the amazing Rocky's were not far from where we lived, our yard and neighborhood itself was far from my ideal physical environment.  Good neighbors - yes!  Good scenery - no.

This evening, after returning from the YMCA and a quick grocery stop, I headed outside to tend to our bird feeder.  This, in itself, brings me much satisfaction as there is a great variety of birds in our back yard.  In addition to my bag of seed, I carried along some corn cobs.  The corn was for our resident deer. We don't see them now near as much as we did in the winter, but tracks in the yard bear witness to their continued presence.  On a few occasions, we have had 9 deer at a time in our yard.  At any rate, as I stopped to put out the corn - I usually take a minute or so to break off some of the kernels-, I looked up into a big tree in our woods.  Over a few days at the end of February and the beginning of March, we saw a raccoon in that big tree.  Ever since, then, I often  look into that tree, expectantly hoping to catch a glimpse of our little friend.  Sure enough, there they were...not one, but two large raccoons.  After a moment they looked up.  For a few minutes we stared at each other.  I waved the corn as a peace offering half hoping (and half nervous) they would climb down to greet me.  Eventually, they scurried into their hole in the tree, peeking back out before making a final farewell.  What a treat!  And then, to top it off, I heard loons chattering on the lake across the road.  In that moment, I felt so privileged and humbled.  I know it may sound cheesy, but I just am so grateful to have this available to me, just outside my door. I couldn't help but smile and thank God for this amazing ending to my day.

What makes you smile?  Feel free to share...chances are, it will make someone else smile too!

[I actually wrote this last night, but need to do a quick read over before posting it because it got too late last night.  I thought I would add that tonight, while coming home from the YMCA - I had Zumba, which also makes me smile and would make you laugh - I saw a little red fox about 3 miles from my house.  Once again, I had to smile and give thanks for the creation critters that roam so near.]

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No chance to say goodbye

They didn't giver her any warning.  No hints about what was coming or when.  They simply showed up at lunch and gave her the news.  It would be her last day at school.  They were moving away. 

"You should have seen her, Kathy," Ben's teacher said.  "She just cried and cried.  She was a mess."  They came, ate lunch, told the sweet 2nd grader the news, and then left her behind to finish out the day in a heap of tears.  They didn't even warn Mrs. K until that morning, so no party or special goodbyes could be planned.  Just here one day and gone the next.

"How long ago did she move?" I asked. 

I suspected that I already knew the answer.  The day before, I started forming a hypothesis in my mind about when Ben's best classmate, Kaylee, moved away.  You see, approximately three weeks ago, we had a really bumpy "off" week.  My middle man was more sensitive and readily frustrated than usual, walking around like Eeyore under a rain cloud, but with no overt or apparent explanation.  But, for some reason, just the other day, I recalled that a month or so prior to week of gloom, I learned that Kaylee would be moving "sometime" before the end of the year.

"Ummm...let's see...that would have been about three weeks ago," Mrs. K said reflectively.

I knew it.  Within my heart I knew there must have been a reason for the drearier than usual week or so in the beginning of April.  And yet, my sensitive man, who doesn't always find the words to express himself, did not could not explain what it was that troubled him so.  From all outward appearances, things were business as usual around the house and at school, but clearly something was brewing inside.  I just couldn't figure out what it was.  Mrs. K probably figured Ben would tell me this significant news, but his broken heart wouldn't betray him.  Instead, he simply buried the hurt I now suspect he felt and exchanged it for an external attitude and cloud of dread.

When I realized all of this, my heart just broke.  My heart broke for my son's sweet friend Kaylee.  I just couldn't imagine how hard that day must have been for her.  Without warning, her whole world changed.  The security of life as she knew it was shattered in the span of a 20 minute lunch in a crowded cafeteria.  No goodbye party.  No special goodbye book or photographs.  No opportunities to exchange parent e-mail or snail mail addresses to give at least the allusion that friendships could somehow continue from a distance.  No chance to say goodbye to the staff members that weren't present that day.  [Mrs. K mentioned that, just a day ago, they found a note taped to the wall for one of the other staff members who wasn't able to say goodbye.  Kaylee wrote it and taped it on the wall without telling anyone, with the hopes that this other special adult in her life would find it.]  No chance to process the move with her parents prior to returning to class and sticking it out through to the end of the day.  "She just kept crying." 

I wish I could have been there...to hug her, to reassure her, to tell her how happy I was that she and Ben were friends, to let her know that she would make good friends again soon, to hug her again, to remind her that she is a valuable person, to thank her for making Ben's move to a new school just a little bit easier.  I wish I could have been there to show her I cared about her. 

And, of course, my heart broke...crumbled really...for my Ben.  I ached for his tender heart that surely felt this as another loss, whether or not he could verbalize it himself...first his tummy mommy, then his best friends in Parksville (Ty and Nick), next his best friend in Calgary (Isaiah), and now his best classroom friend here.  I felt sorry that I didn't know and couldn't help him process through seeing his friend fall apart, knowing she would no longer be his best peer connection in an environment that challenges him on a daily basis (in really good, but really hard ways).  I couldn't help but feel sad knowing that I did not know why he was acting the way he was, but was so frustrated by it.  In reality, had I known, perhaps I would have been more patient, more gentle, more of something that he needed to work through this.  As many mommys might, I worried that my amazing son might not quickly find another little friend to help fill this need in his life...how valuable it is for each child to have at least one classroom friend that they feel they can be themselves with.  Kaylee, for whatever reason, was this person to Ben.  From what I understand, Ben was that to her as well.  She was always the first of Ben's friends to greet me when I stopped by for a visit and the first one he picked to join us when we sat at the Guest Table.  I wish I had known and could have been there for Ben...given him a safe place to share the feelings he might not have even understood or was afraid to voice.  I wish I could have known and given Ben an extra bit of attention and care...maybe cut him some slack...and just loved on him even more.  I wish through this time, he would have known just how much I cared about him and the things that are of importance to him.

I should have known something was up.  I just couldn't put my finger on it.  I should have known better, but I didn't.  Sometimes I hate these life lessons as they can be painfully humbling, reflecting a weakness in my perceived perfection (*note: I am giggling inside as there is NO perceived perfection here.  However, I do perceive myself more put together than I am sometimes...and sometimes, I perceive myself less together than I really am.  Funny - in a sad sort of way - that we play these silly head games, waffling between pride and insecurity.  That is a thought for another day, however).  At any rate, as sad as I was for Kaylee and Ben, I was happy to know the root of the ugly that hung around for a few days.  I was glad to have a "reason" for the exaggerated yuck.  As well, it reminded me that while always finding excuses for crummy behaviour isn't a good thing, understanding when there is something more than meets the eye is.  Perhaps this experience will help tune me in a bit more to the moments that I would rather tune out.  And, perhaps, it will remind me not to take my Kaylees for granted.

Now, go hug your kid (if you have one) and tell one of your Kaylees how much you appreciate them.  And, as always, thanks for reading!