Kids Live Here

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Kids live here. Sometimes it takes a two-year-old armed with a stolen blue sharpie and a big imagination to remind us of that.

Kids live here,

  Sometimes we follow their whims…

…and sometimes they even let us play along.

Kids live here,

This home is where we nurture the imagination,

and let them be who they are.

Kids live here,

And sometimes we dare to let it show. 

Chilling Up

Over the past couple of weeks I have been feeling especially nostalgic. My daughter (my oldest) just graduated from preschool, and I may have started panicking a bit as I looked through the pictures from her end of year celebration. For some reason it has only now started hitting me that in just a blink of an eye I am going to look back at the pictures from significant days like this and feel a tinge of sadness. My heart has begun to ache for the future me that will look back on these moments and miss the different versions of my kids captured by my camera as we move all too quickly through time.

Not that I haven’t always felt a bit of that same tinge when I have looked back at other pictures of my daughter and my now two-year-old son; but I think that this is the first time when I have, in the midst of one of these once-in-a-lifetime moments, so fully felt the emotions that the future me will undoubtedly feel in the not-so-distant future. I blame the lack of sleep that generally comes along with the first few years of a child’s life. It is a crime that sleep deprivation and new-parent stress can keep one from thoroughly understanding the magnificence of the cuddles, snuggles, and late-night feedings. (Of course, I say all this now that I am some distance from this stage.)

At any rate, I am feeling like I have finally grown into my “parenthood” shoes and that I can more fully appreciate each moment as it is. Letting go of the stress has allowed me to more fully enjoy rites of passage, big and small; from my daughter’s graduation to my son’s beaming pride at every great new achievement. I am more present as he has really grown into a wonderful, imaginative playmate and my daughter has, after two years, learned to share her toys. Some lessons are just so hard to learn, but well worth the wait.

Before I discover my next stage of parenting, which may very well land me right back into “stress and sleep deprivation” land, I want to enjoy this moment in time and perhaps reach back a little bit and honor some of the milestones that I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. So today I’d like to start my list of under-appreciated moments in time that I would like to remember in the future. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate or have a few of your own under-appreciated kid and parent milestones to add:

Milestones I Should Have Appreciated More:

  • When the kids started talking about (in detail) and celebrating their bowel movements. Call me immature, but it is funny.
  • The first creation of a family portrait. On the wall. The same one that we have not had the heart to erase.
  • Each car ride accompanied by complete songs; the ones that are sweet only a parent’s ears and sung over. and over. and over.
  • The puke covered shirts (mine, not theirs), for I would have never gotten onto the scarf bandwagon if I hadn’t been out of clean shirts and needed to quickly cover a little puke grossness.
  • The inventions of new word combinations such as “Hanitizer,” “Co-help-erate” and “Chill up, Mommy!” And the day when we realized that those words found a way into our everyday vocabulary.
  • The moment when I realized for the first time what I REALLY sound like; not because I was listening to a recording, but because my kids began to speak clearly enough to throw my words right back at me. And I found myself annoying.
  • When I found out for the first time which of our possessions really mattered… because it was thoroughly destroyed by tiny hands. (See related: when my children proved that “childproof” doesn’t mean what we thought it meant.)
  • When I could trust my kids to play nice long enough to close the bathroom door, thank you very much.
  • When we discovered that the kids were tall enough to reach up onto the kitchen counters, only to discover just how well they could also reach the trash can, and just how hard it can be to find a set of car keys.
  • When the kids could start remembering where they hid things.
  • The day when your two-year-old throws a fit and your four-year-old says, “jeeeze… what’s HIS deal?!” Priceless.
  • The first time when I, in the midst of one of these once-in-a-lifetime milestones, so fully felt the emotions that the future me will undoubtedly feel in the not-so-distant future–knowing that I will miss my kids as they are in each of these moments.

Chalice Flames and Bonfires

Chalice Flame and Bonfires

One of my fondest memories of growing up in a Unitarian Universalist church involves lighting the chalice as a part of our youth group and youth conference gatherings.

But we didn’t just light the chalice. We lit.The.Chalice.

We would gather together burnt, used leftover matches and pile them carefully into the center of the candle to create a magnificent, brilliant light. While we discussed the topic of the day, one or two of us would tend to our chalice flame, keeping it contained yet bright as possible. When we ran out of used-up match fuel for our fire, we would find a use for our broken crayon stubs and melt them in the flame, letting the colorful wax drip down the side of the candle. We thought it was more pretty this way.

Over time we learned that the bigger the flame, the quicker the candle would burn. Our beautiful fire would suffocate when the pool of wax grew too deep or when the wick simply met it’s end. We weren’t too concerned then with making the candle last through our whole gathering, though. This was more about experimentation, pushing our limits (and, as it turns out, the limits of our advisors), and the instant gratification of making that chalice REALLY shine.

Occasionally, but not often, this ritual might have gotten a little out hand; an especially overzealous youth might add a few scraps of paper in an attempt to add a little more height to our fire and discover that the now bonfire was too hard to control, or we would create a waxy mess trying to clean out the candle. Those were the times when we found we had pushed our limits a little too far and our advisors would step in to dole out the logical consequences, and sometimes we could expect to lose our fire privileges for a while.

But that seemed to be part of the role of our advisors once we reached high school- to watch us tend to our own flame (hopefully not in panic-stricken horror) and step in when it became too much for us to handle on our own. Since then, I have learned that the line between a manageable brilliant light and an out-of-control blaze is very thin, and it takes a unique individual to help youth walk that line.

Sometimes I wish I still had an advisor to help me find that line in my day-to-day life. I might wake up in the morning, feeling calm, peaceful, yet determined and focused. But I might find that by dinnertime, after encountering a day full of frustrating news– stories of children taught to recite hate, thoughtless violence, and fear-mongering politics– I have crossed the line and transformed myself into a fuming, sarcastic, out-of-control blaze.

When I have crossed that line, I respond to antagonistic articles, Facebook posts, and conversations with not an ounce of understanding; I find myself seeking out news stories filled with mudslinging and hate, just to keep that fire fueled. Then I spend hours reading the comments and adding pointless lectures that won’t be read by anyone other than the people who were trying to create a bonfire in the first place.

And I know that I am not the only one– I think that UUs in general can be pretty susceptible to crossing that line. We are a passionate people and we care a whole awful lot. But sometimes our flammability lands us exactly where we don’t want to be and we react in exactly the wrong way. We turn into blazing, out of control bonfires.

We need our congregations and fellow congregants to be our advisors; to help us discover that line and to help us sustain our calm, brilliant lights. We need to help each other remember to respond in love, and not in-kind, when someone tries to fan the flame. Most importantly, we need to hold each other accountable so that we are compelled to react responsibly, especially when the temptation not to is great.

 

When It Rains…

One of the things that I have been vowing to do is to start running… again. It has been since before my daughter was born (4 years and a half years ago) that I have seriously pursued running. I remember loving it. But since I have strapped on my jogging shoes for the first time in years, I am finding it to be quite a challenge to overcome the “I am terribly (and I mean TERRIBLY) out of shape” hump.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the “out of shape hump” is what one experiences when he or she first starts excersizing after taking an extended, shall we say, sabbatical from rigorous exercise. This is the period of time where everything hurts and there is nothing about the experience that feels even remotely rewarding. In other words, the pain factor severely outweighs the immediate gratification factor. I am pretty sure that this is an actual thing– look it up.

I expected it to be hard; I knew that I was going to have to re-learn form, regain some endurance, and locate some muscles that I forgot I had. But truthfully, it is a lot harder than I expected, mostly because I have yet to experience the feeling I used to love when I went running. I really miss it. Nevertheless “run a marathon” remains one of the top items on my bucket list, so I really feel like it is in my best interest to bite the bullet and get in shape sooner rather than later.

So today I went for a jog through town. When my running partner (my dog) and I left the house, the skies looked nothing more than a tinsy bit threatening. I would call it partly cloudy. Still, the breeze was cool, the town was quietly enjoying their Saturday morning snooze, and the thought of a little drizzle during my run didn’t frighten me one bit. I remember enjoying running in the rain–when I was in shape.

I would like to say that about a mile into my run (read: walk with a little bit of hop) I was feeling good, but not so much. My knees were hurting, I had a cramp, and I was just giving in to the urge to walk. And then it happened. Thunder.

I was a mile away from home and the sky opened up to release what I can only assume was Noah’s signal to get on board that ark (of course this is not at all an overly dramatic recreation of events). At this point, I was a little bit glad that it was early enough that I didn’t have to endure running past a heckling crowd of neighbors, sitting on their front porches pointing and laughing at the poor slob and her dog who didn’t check the weather before leaving the house. I was soaking wet, in pain, and to make matters worse my dog HATES getting wet. As I tried to muster the strength to jog the rest of the way home (yes, after only one pitiful mile), my (not so) fearless running partner began to pull on her leash, seeking shelter anywhere she could find it.

At some point during the storm I decided that I was not going to win. Even if I suddenly became the in-shape, marathon ready version of myself that I wanted to be, I was never going to outrun the rain. I was going to get drenched–whether I like it or not. My dog was probably going to be unhappy about getting wet–whether I liked it or not, and I wasn’t going to suddenly get into shape before the end of my run… whether I liked it or not.

I decided to walk. I slowed down and laughed at myself and my rain-soaked clothes and hair, the water dripping down my face. Then I laughed even harder when I passed two other walkers who were seemingly unscathed by the sudden downpour, their hair and makeup somehow picture perfect, as if the storm never happened. It seemed for a moment that Eeyore’s cloud had taken a break from making his life miserable just long enough to complicate my morning run.

The rest of my walk home was really quite wonderful– there is a gift in the beautiful quiet of a spring morning rain when you aren’t too busy battling sore muscles and water-averse dogs. Once I gave in to what was, rather than focusing on what I would have rather accomplished, I was able to enjoy my journey.

As I stepped in my front door, the rain stopped; and for the first time since I strapped on my running shoes, I felt as if the pain was outweighed by the reward.

Time for Self

I am going to say what anyone reading this undoubtedly already knows: Life is busy. So busy, in fact, that sometimes we just can’t muster the energy at the end of the day to take care of ourselves in the way that we should.

But who am I kidding? This isn’t about you; this is about me.

I love to write. In fact, I have discovered after months of not keeping up on my blog that not only do I thoroughly miss writing and blogging, but that I am simply not functional when I skip out on this practice; even if it means staying up later and missing out on a little precious sleep. Even knowing this, somehow I allow life, schedules, stress, to-do lists to get in the way of what I most need to do to maintain my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Each day can feel like a race to the finish, and things that were once important get lost in the shuffle, especially when all you want to do is crash. And even though I know that I know better, I sometimes allow care-taker burnout to happen. You know, when your life revolves around the well-being of others so much so that you start pushing aside that really important thing you need to do “just this once.” Then pretty soon “just this once” turns into “maybe next week” and eventually into “it’s too late to do that now.” Before you know it the stress of missed opportunities seeps in and transforms a once fulfilling practice into something weighed down by the heavy baggage of resentment and regret.

Not only does neglecting my spiritual practice drag me down and stress me out, I have found that I become forgetful as my brain-space becomes cluttered and preoccupied with an epic inner tug-of-war for peace of mind.

You see, my writing process goes a little something like this:

Each day I take mental notes and file away my observations and reflections for future use (blogging). In the best of all possible worlds, I sit down in the quiet of a post-bedtime house and put it all into words. The problem is that my brain never stops taking these notes even if I never do anything with them.

Now picture a section of my brain covered with Post-It notes about big “Ah-ha” moments and earth-shattering paradigm shifts. Just go with me on this. (I would ask you to picture a file drawer, but let’s face it, even on my best days I am not that organized).

The more days go by the more Post-Its seem to litter my brain, leaving little room for other new, time-sensitive, important information, and my daughter shows up for a beloved school Pajama Day in her regular play clothes. Now not only am I stressed out, preoccupied, and forgetful, but my4 year old is heartbroken and I have nothing left to do but to leave myself an ironic Post-It note reminding myself to clear out some brainspace.

I always have great excuses for keeping these personal notes-to-self locked away in the cluttered mess of my brain, and they usually have something to do with “later.”

“The inspiration will hit me… later.”

“I’ll have time… later.”

“Things will be more quiet… later.”

Well, self, later isn’t coming. And pretty soon those Post-Its are going to be gone with the next strong breeze. Then you’re really going to miss out on some extremely important stuff that is infinitely more real than those little yellow pieces of paper you are running around trying to collect.

I am ready for a change.

About a week ago, my husband started a blog of his own sort of out of the blue. It is a lovely online gratitude journal documenting everyday events that he (we) might otherwise forget to appreciate. And so far, he has successfully written at least one post every day. It has really inspired me to get my stuff together and stop making excuses. I am not sure if this shift came about because of my competitive nature, because he just inspires me so much, or perhaps because in a moment of complete honesty he revealed to me that it was always his evil plan to kick my butt back into gear. Whatever the reason, I am ready to recommit myself to my spiritual practice, writing at least 2 times a week to start. Of course, I say this knowing that my spouse (and perhaps some of you) will hold me accountable. I have decided that while accountability can be at least a little bit scary, it is completely necessary.

I think we all need this; a support group of people who will hold you accountable to your commitments to self care. Without someone who has the audacity to hold up a mirror, it gets much too easy put ourselves last and forget to practice what we preach. We forget that we can tell our friends and family to love themselves all we want, but if we don’t show them what that means our words are lost. Taking care of ourselves means giving others the permission to do the same and it allows us to be fully present in our roles as parents, teachers, friends, neighbors.

For the foreseeable future, I am posting two times per week, and in the process I am going to do my best to shut down that little voice in my head that tries to tell me that self care is a selfish desire. I am going to nurture my spirit to recognize my worth and the worth of those around me.

I am ready to take the plunge. Who’s with me?