Category Archives: family life

Home Again

Our family traveled a lot when I was a kid. We took short trips, long trips, and sometimes just day trips. I loved going, seeing new places, but also knowing that we shared the same sky, the same moon no matter where we were. I can sleep so well in a car, probably because of all that traveling. One of my favorite memories is lying in the back our big yellow van, my head against the wall so that I could see out of the window above my head. I would sleep that way, only waking when when we slowed down to turn into our neighborhood.

The big hill that leads to our house is lined with trees and streetlights and is as comforting to me as home. I would open my sleepy eyes and know exactly where we were, which neighbor’s house we were passing. As we pulled into the drive my parents would chant, “Home again, home again jiggity jig!” Even today I feel myself relax as I drive up that street.

It’s funny to me that I never wanted to move away from home. I mean, I wanted my own apartment as I got older,  but I never thought about living in another city. After Lee and I had been married for a couple of years a job opportunity came up that would require us to move. Every cell in my body wanted to stay in Lexington but I knew that Lee needed this.

So, we moved to Knoxville, Tennessee.

The first few months there were scary and lonely. Driving in Knoxville terrified me, and I learned lots of back roads to avoid the interstates and heavy trafficked roads. Because the radio in my old black Volvo didn’t work I had to sing loudly to distract my babies and myself from my panic at sharing the road with so many trucks. Old hymns, Mary Poppins, and Queen make up the soundtrack of those days.

Moving made me brave.

I was able to travel I-75 because I knew that home was at the other end. Going to visit my parents gave me courage. On the return trip knowing that Lee, our house, and our little life were all waiting for me made my goodbyes less bittersweet. It’s funny how fears abate when you have people waiting for you. They give you mission.

We moved three more times, twice two new town, and each place I fell in love with. I enjoyed learning the history of our new town, local favorites, and hidden treasures. I stopped thinking of Lexington as home and more as the place that I grew up. Two years ago when we moved back I couldn’t help but contemplate home, and what that means.

I was reminded of all the coming-of-age novels I read where the main character moves back home and embarks on a journey of self-discovery. I always wondered what it was like to move back home after redefining yourself in another place.. No one knows what you were like in high school, or about your brothers, or what you and your best friends like to do. You don’t run into people you know at the store, at least at first, and you can switch hairdressers easily. Everything is new, and that can include you.

Moving back home, though, was so different than I thought it would be. Living in my childhood home, roaming the streets of my neighborhood with my own children, is much more grounding than I had imagined. On our daily walks we step onto the same corner that was the meeting spot of the neighborhood kids. Even though someone else lives there the house across the street is still ‘the Leggett’s house’ to me and my parents.

My handwriting, in permanent marker, is in the closet of the bedroom my girls now share. My boys’ swing set is where me and my brothers played for hours. Neighbors who knew me from childhood stop me and we condense our lives into a ten minute chat. We wave goodbye, filled with memories of a picturesque past.

Moving back to the town where I took off my training wheels for the first time, where I learned to drive, and where I got my heart broken for the first time made me brave again. While a new place can give you the freedom to be someone a little different it can also sweep you up into a current that’s not your own. We’ve had some heavy stuff happen, which caused the shoulds and have-to’s to become even more weighted.

Sometimes you just keep functioning and don’t realize how big of an influence fear has become.

Moving home gave me the space to face that. Moving home gave me space to find my courage again, to remember that no matter what happens in my life I have a place within me that houses my ten year-old self. The me that knows riding down a hill with no hands is possible, the me that doesn’t care about skinned knees or climbing too high will always be there, waiting. Fearlessness that reins freely in our youth isn’t grown out of. Rather, it is covered up under the guise of maturity  and responsibility, making us think we’re grown ups.

Audacity is always waiting for it’s moment to shine, though.

Coming home made me feel that again. Watching my youngest learn to ride his bike with only two wheels on the same sidewalk I did unleashed it. I’m probably not going to ride my bike with no hands today, but my heart is lighter, more able to be in the world.

Life is short but fear makes it shorter.

Today courage means filling my life with relationship that make my life messy, embracing inconvenience and taking heart in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world. Pushing through the uneasiness that comes from going against the grain of this life is not always easy but my days feel longer when fear is not in charge.

God knew that I needed the shelter of home to find my courage again. It’s not about the place, or the house, or the neighborhood, either. Those things are nice but home is something inside, a notion that dwells within. It’s about being able to remember who Christ says I am, and for me that’s easiest to do when I think about who I was as a kid. I wasn’t weighed down by shoulds and have-to’s and didn’t hold back my love.

I am home, again.

Home again.

Jiggity jig.

 

 

I’m curious; how do you find home? Is it a place or a time? Does home make you brave, too?

 

How I Added Hygge to Our Homeschool

Homeschooling in December is my favorite.

I enjoy the holiday routine of staying up late, sleeping in, and eating whatever food is available in the refrigerator. We tend to stay in our jimmies more, read more, and play lots of board games.

There’s a more relaxed feel in the air during December

January and February feel like slogging through wet mud. There is so much resistance, mainly from me, to get back to normal. The truth is I do not like schedules, I do not like lesson plans, and I do not like forcing the kids to do ‘school’ stuff.

During an avoidance session I joined a group committed to hygge, a Danish concept that kind of means cozy, but also lots of other things. It was just what I needed. People from all over the world share pictures of hygge and other sweet things. I could feel the calm rolling in. That’s when I knew our homeschool needed hygge.

Here’s what I did:

~ I added some fire.

Fireplaces and candles are essential to hygge, it appears. Here in KY it”s been too warm of a winter to have a fire going. Thanks to Netflix I can have one, complete with the crackling, right on our television and it won’t overheat the living room. Then the television isn’t for movies; it’s a fireplace and my people quit thinking about what movie to watch.

Win, win.

I can not believe how calm and sweet it has made our morning and afternoons. I sit on the couch and read aloud, Liam builds with his Legos or blocks and Spencer does what 13 year old boys do while their mother reads aloud. Some days it still ends in goofiness (wrestling, arguing, or spilled drinks) but I just close my eyes and remember that for a few minutes it was calm.

You can’t even tell that’s not a real fire!

 

I’ve become a huge Brave Writer fan. In doing so I discovered Julie’s Poetry Teatime philosophy. It has to do with a candle, a table, tea, and poetry. We don’t do poetry every day, but we do journal and read the bible and it’s usually with a candle lit in the center of the table. There’ve been a few times the candle had to be put away because my little pyro’s just couldn’t quit sticking stuff in the flames, but that’s just par for the course around here.

They also make battery operated candles just for families like mine.

I still have some of our Christmas lights hanging around so we plug those in, too. It’s strange how my piles don’t bother me as much with dim lights, a fake fireplace, and a candle.  The kids feel my calm and feed off of that.

~We do ‘projects’ instead of school.

My boys immediately turn into beasts when the word ‘school’ is spoken. They begin all evasion tactics in a full on assault against my desires. So I don’t call it school.

We do projects now.  Liam, who is 7, gets to pick his own goals. I’m encouraging Spencer to do the same but he’d always pick Minecraft so I’ve chosen some things for him to work on. Also he’s almost to the end of his current All About Spelling level and is pretty excited to get to the next one. If I suggest to work on our All About Spelling project, he’s there…if I say, “It’s time for spelling,” he’s in the bathroom for the next 30 minutes.

It was a little change but it’s made a fairly big difference, especially for me. I still struggle with public school mentality. Our projects have helped me not get so bogged down in the details. I’m focusing on the big picture and then figuring what areas need some focus.

 

~ I removed should-ing and have-to-ing.

You know this is an issue in my life. I am not pleased that it’s part of my kids’ lives, but it is. For along time we lived under the weight of shoulds and have-to’s but I’m just not having it anymore. I’m replacing those words with ‘I’d like to’ and ‘would you think about’. This is something I must be diligent about, my friends. It creeps back into my language subtly.

“We should be done with this by now.”

“We have to get this done.”

You get the picture. 

All of my kids have dyslexia. You would think that with the fourth one I would stop the worrying about where they were educationally speaking, but it’s a struggle. My sweet 7 year old still doesn’t know all of the letters of the alphabet. Typing it makes my stomach flutter, and if I’m not careful I can really make our lives miserable. I could get nutty about sitting down every day and forcing his brain to do something it’s just not ready to do.

Instead, I choose to follow his lead. We are doing All About Reading together and he loves it and is proud of his progress and that’s all that matters. As long as I keep the shoulds and have-to’s out of it we have fun figuring it out, and I know that eventually it will come. 

The system tells us otherwise but there is no should with children. They get what they get when they get it. Give them a chance to explore, to grow in their own time and they will excel at the their gifts. I’ve seen it in my others, and I’m seeing it in Liam, too. 

Children are natural learners. They are curious, insatiably so, and if we let that be the lead they are free to enjoy learning. Once I take the worry of where my child should be, according to ‘them’, once I remove the have-to’s from our path there are no more obstacles.

We just go.

That’s totally hygge.

~ I stopped scheduling.

First of all, I’m not realistic in scheduling. I always try to do entirely too much. For a few years now I’ve broken up our day into 25 minute chunks of time, which is so helpful. Last week I was trying to figure out how to solve my time problem (again), which is that I enjoy being spontaneous but I also need a small amount of structure to help me focus.

In thinking about my day there are four major sections that I can break down:

6 a.m.- 10a.m.

10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

2 p.m. – 6 p.m.

6 p.m. -10 p.m.

Once I broke those down I wrote down the things that need to be done in each quadrant; meals, appointments, etc. In other words, events with a fixed time. I’ve been keeping a running list of the things I want to do daily for our school  projects. It doesn’t matter which quadrant those go in, we can fit them where they’re more convenient.

I was happy to discover that our day already has a pretty solid routine built in. Morning is when my boys like to be busy outside, or inside just playing, or fighting and arguing. Spencer does better working a little before lunch, then a little afterwards. He needs frequent breaks and lots of physical activity.  Laurel, my 11th grader, likes to have slow breakfast and then hit her bookwork hard. She’s pretty driven academically, whereas the boys…well, they don’t have that focus right now.

Breaking our day up into quadrants has really helped me re-evaluate all that we get done in a day. A lot happens outside the traditional 8-3 school time.

 

~ I quit beating myself up.

Okay, that’s a constant work in progress, but it’s a priority. It feels like there is so much resting on my shoulders. Homeschooling is a huge responsibility. There is no time off. Mistakes will be made by teacher and student, parent and child. It is a completely different lifestyle. While it’s becoming more mainstream it’s still countercultural and can be a little lonely.

I can beat myself up over all of the things I didn’t know in the beginning. I didn’t know you didn’t have to do everything the books said. I didn’t know tears didn’t have to be part of learning. I didn’t know my kids had learning disabilities. I didn’t know I could talk to other parents about my struggles.

Now I do know all of those things and I can share my journey with other homeschooling parents. I will always believe that sharing the hard stuff is essential to life on Earth. There’s still plenty I don’t know, though, so beating myself up is pointless.

I do promise myself to the best I can every day.

Sometimes my best looks amazing, and sometimes it looks like day three without a shower, gray sweatpants and dark circles. Some days my best is not amazing…and that is just fine.

~ I added music, outside time, and tickling.

Good music, different music. I had forgotten how much we love spontaneous dance parties. I found a station on Spotify called Concentration that is very calming for us. I search for music from the period we’re studying in history. Music is important. It gives you space to think, a place where your creative mind can wander.

The boys have introduced me to some ridiculous YouTube music as well. All I can say is Lord help us all.

When I was in college working in the university’s early childhood lab one of the big take-away’s was outside time. The little ones went outside every single day, no matter what the weather was, for two 20 minute recesses. I think it benefited the teachers as much as the children. 

Walking, hiking, and being outside have always been a big part of our homeschool but I can get lazy. Sometimes I get tired of the arguing, sometimes it takes so long to find shoes and socks that I don’t want to deal with it. What I know is this: we’re all happier and healthier when we go on daily walks. 

Walking together gives us time to talk, or be quiet, to process information we’ve been gathering, and releases pent up energy. The weather has been amazingly, strangely warm here so we’ve been taking advantage of that. Even on cold, rainy days though it’s important for us to get out. 

Lastly, and I know this seems silly, but I am being more intentional about tickling my boys. They still need to be played with and loved on in that way. There’s nothing like a good tickle fight to break down a bad mood, and when I hear them giggling in glee I can’t help but relax a little bit, too. Playing together reminds all of us that homeschooling is not serious business.

 

That’s how I’ve added hygge to our homeschool.

I’m curious if you’ve heard of hygge and if it’s something that you think about. Maybe this has always been a part of your life, maybe this is (somehow) the first you’ve heard of this.

Either way, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear other tips on keeping homeschool relaxed.

As always, be brave.

And weird. Weird is important, too.

 

What My Brother Taught Me About Dreaming

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”   ~ John Lennon

 

Whenever Erik, my brother, comes home for the weekend or a night or just a day it’s hard for him to go back to his house. Erik is developmentally disabled and moved out almost two years ago. No matter how pleasant our time together has been the tension builds as he anticipates when one of us says it’s time to go.

His shoulders become tight, he starts working his jaw and tongue and his stimming behaviors are more intense. Erik verbalizes fears through what seems like violent talk. Sometimes I want to laugh over the bizarre things he says (this only disturbs him more), sometimes tears seem more appropriate.

Every time I want to tell him that he can stay home with us, that this charade of him living somewhere else is over.

But it cannot be that way.

Erik needs his own space and we need him to have his own space.

On one of our drives home he asked when Mom and Dad were going on a cruise.

To fill you in, sometimes I just chat to him as a way to distract him from his OCD thoughts. When we didn’t live together, my family and my parents and I, Erik would come to stay with us a few times a year. We came to call that time Camp Shepherd. He loved it, the kids mostly loved it, and I really loved it. Having Erik with us made it feel a little more like home.

Now, though, there is no Camp Shepherd. Camp Shepherd/Krieg (or Camp Shrieg as we call it now) does not hold the allure of the other. It’s not a vacation anymore. It’s just home, and home is the same.

At Camp Shepherd, Erik could ride his bike with his nieces and nephew, he could talk to people that he didn’t know, he could play the piano and preach in the empty sanctuaries of churches my husband was employed at. He was braver at Camp Shepherd, more bold, not nearly as afraid of getting lost.

He can ride a bike in our neighborhood, but home is boring. It’s something he’s known forever.

Camp Shepherd was a chance to be different, to be more free from his self-imposed constraints.

Erik had asked me when he could come to Camp Shepherd again, as he kept me company while I cleaned my boys’ room. Having him in there kept me from blowing my lid when I stepped the 17th Lego piece. I told him we’d have to send Mom and Dad on a cruise to Alaska to have Camp Shepherd. It was just something I said, not something I meant. He held onto that for a couple of weeks before re-visiting the idea.

It took me a few minutes to figure out why he was asking when our parents were going on a cruise. When I finally remembered I laughed because I’m always amazed at what he remembers, what he takes as fact. I told him I didn’t know, but that we’d look into it.

At the next light he said, “I want us to all go on a cruise.”

“You do?” I asked.

“Mm hmm,” he said, nodding his head. He does this a lot when he’s very happy or excited. He looks just like he did when he was a little boy. It’s one of my favorite Erik looks. “Yes, let’s all go on a cruise: Kiley, Laurel, Spencer, Liam, Lee, Mom, Dad, you and me.”

“To Alaska? That would be fun.”

“Around the world. I want to go on a cruise around the world.”

“Wow,” I answered, baffled at this newly divulged desire, one I think he had just given birth to in that moment.

“Yes. It will take us an entire year,”  he said with finality, like it was a done deal.

It struck me that this idea was not about our destination; it was about being together for as long as possible. It was about taking a break from the normal and getting to do something grand and different. A cruise around the world would be a chance to be brave and be together.

I told him I would get maps and we would mark with push pins where we wanted to visit. His excitement was contagious and I found myself getting into planning our world trip. We talked about which places we wanted to visit. He wants to go to Canada because the band members of Rush reside there.

It was easier for him to get out of the car after our day-dreaming. Erik was relaxed.  He only came back to discuss what concerts we could go to 6 times. Erik cannot leave without saying, ‘God bless you’ and if he thinks you missed it he’ll come back and make sure you did, sometimes over and over.

I drove off wondering what I would make for dinner, where I had to be next, and if anyone had fed the dogs dinner.

That trip and our cruise conversation took place a few weeks ago. I suppose both of us have moved on from that dream, or day dream, or pipe dream.

Except it’s not really moving on when our dream is forgotten. Maybe it’s left behind. Maybe it’s weighed down or maybe buried alive, just waiting to be unearthed again.

 

 


 

This morning I woke up thinking about our cruise. I woke up wondering what it would be like to visit another country by way of boat. I’ve traveled enough to know that while the landscape may look new there is also a familiar thread to be found. Maybe it’s the way certain food tastes, or a stranger will remind you of someone you know, but there is usually something that will remind you of home.

Erik teaches me so much about dreaming, but he also surprises me with it. It’s easy to look at someone like him, someone the world tells me is simple-minded, and fall into the wrong thinking that there’s not much to him.

There is a depth to my brother, though, that takes my breath away.

Photo Credit: rustyruth1959 Flickr via Compfight cc

His brain may not cooperate, it may be confused and betray him, but his heart is like the ocean. Erik’s heart, his soul,  is boundless and beautiful and deeper than anyone has ever explored. I’m embarrassed that it still shocks me to learn that there is more that Erik wants for his life, that the world’s short-sighted vision of good enough is not good enough for him.

Isn’t that true for all of us? Isn’t it our dream of what could be that makes the mundane, every day life bearable? Isn’t it that our dreams, our visions of an imagined future, lend color and passion to our current situation?

Isn’t it our dreams that tell us that this world is not the end, that there is more?

It dawned on me this morning that it is envisioning our wildest desires that fuels us forward, compelling us to continue on. Even as our mind tells us it’s impossible our heart cries out, “YOU CAN!”

 

“Dreams, if they’re any good, are always a little bit crazy!” 

~ Ray Charles

 

So today I’m going to get Erik a dream journal and we will fill it with pictures of places he wants our cruise ship to go. I’ll have the kids, Lee, and my parents help as well, so that bits of all our dreams are sprinkled on the pages. I’ll get his map, just like I said I would, and we’ll dream of our cruise around the world together.

It won’t just be his dreams, it will be our shared dreams, and when he thumbs through the pages he’ll remember that we dream together. Not alone. Never alone.

 


 

Just as I allowed the everyday to hide our cruise ship conversation we each can lose sight of our desires. It happens slowly, accidentally in most cases.

Sometimes it’s on purpose, though, that we allow our dreams to fade. Perhaps it’s too scary to keep a hold of them for fear of failing. It may be that your current situation feels so dismal that dreaming literally hurts. If that’s the case dig in, dear one, and be brave like my brother. In a world of no-you-can’ts he chooses to dream anyway – if that doesn’t stir your heart I’m not sure what will.

Dream even when it hurts.

Especially when it hurts.

What special thought swirls in your soul, what secret desire have you never told anyone?

Grab hold of it, nurture it. Allow it to grow. Feed that dream pretty pictures and sounds and words. Thanks to  YouTube all that is possible.

Maybe it won’t look like you thought it would when it comes into fruition, but I’m certain it will lead somewhere amazing. It may be that you’ll meet someone or go somewhere that you wouldn’t have if not for your imaginings.

Dreaming opens the door to action…and that’s when anything is possible.

I’ll let you know how Erik’s dream journal goes in a few weeks, and maybe you can share yours as well? I have things fluttering in my heart, too, traveling, writing, making our house pretty – all those things and more.

In the meantime, friends, be brave and dream a little.

Heck, dream a lot.

 

 

 

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How to Connect with Your Teens

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my journey into accidental mentoring. I’ve put a lot of work into my relationship with my young people, and sometimes connecting with my teenagers can be hard. Every now and then I look at my adult or almost adult children, and wonder who the heck they are. It feels like one day you’re wiping bottoms and the next day you’re sharing coffee and arguing about politics.

Here’s some things I find really useful when I’m wanting, or, needing  to relate more to my teens.

1. Remember who they are.

Nothing cures disconnect like pulling out baby pictures. It’s good for the kid that was the baby, and it’s good for the parent. Looking back at baby pictures also transports me to the time when connecting was simple. I just picked up my baby and loved on them. We shared everything when they each were little; food, stories, beds (and sometimes we still do!). It was a simple, exhausting time in our lives, but also a period in our lives that solidified our relationship.

This is Liam. I can’t figure out how to scan the others in. You get the picture. (pun)

There’s a lot of debate on when a child’s personality solidifies, but I think that even as babies their personality shines through. I look back at how each of my learned how to walk and talk, how to ride a bike, and I find myself nodding and saying, ‘yep, that’s how they’ve always done it’.

During rough patches I pull out pictures, show them to my kids and say, “Look at you!” It reminds me of who they are, but also reminds the child of how much they are loved. It’s fun to recall memories or fill in the gaps on my kids’ memories. I love seeing their faces as they look back on their personal history, their sweet baby faces still reflected in their almost-adult faces.

(Mental Note:  get #4 child’s baby photos off of Facebook so that I have actual pictures to show him when he is a teenager in 6 years. Yikes.)

 

2. Participate in their life.

It can be easy to drop them off and go, but kids want us in their lives even if they’r not super wiling to admit it. When your kid looks at you, though,  to make sure you’re watching  you know you’re in the right place. Especially when that kid is 14.

Having a house full of teenagers can be loud and require lots of food but is a ton of fun. I want our house to be a home where kids know they can eat and drink and hang out. It’s not always convenient but it is always fun.

I take the time every week to hang out in my kids’ rooms. I read somewhere years ago that laying in your child’s bed helps you see their perspective. I think it’s true. I also learn more about what makes them tick, about what they love and what they think is beautiful. Remember that Beach Boys song In My Room? There is something cool about your room when you’re a kid.

 

 

I’ve also learned to love listening to my kids’ music. Somewhere between 10 and 12 each of mine has expressed wanting to listen to their own kind of music instead of audiobooks or whatever I’m into at the time. I let them make their own choices when it comes to music and books, mostly. Between 12 and 14 there were a few books I said no to after reading first, and several artists that I said absolutely not, ever, ever, ever even when Jesus comes back, to. They were cool with that.

Thanks to my girls I’m Twenty One Pilots’ oldest fangirl, I know who Panic! At the Disco is and I’ve fallen head over heels for YA fiction. Thanks to my boy I love Minecraft, Weird Al (again) and Legos. Thanks to me they know the lyrics to Queen songs and appreciate Jane Austen. Thanks to their Dad they love the Beatles and understand the complexities of 80’s music. I think connecting through art, art that we love, teaches us a lot about each otters.

I’m always shocked when one of them wants me to hang out wherever they are, even if it’s for just a little bit. I do remember being a teen and being secretly pleased that one of my parental units was at an event. Which leads me to the next one…

3. Think back on your own teenage years.

I know,  I know, it’s not necessarily the favorite time of life to look back on. I do think it’s important to remember the feelings, the tumultuous, overwhelming, wonderful, maddening feelings, that ruled life during those years. It’s a time of extremes to be sure but it’s also a time of growth.

This is a good time to pull out pictures of you as a teenager. Share music, books, and movies that you loved. There’s nothing better than watching your kid’s jaw drop when you know all the words to Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. Reveal worst and best moments. It levels the playing field, helps them see that you as a fellow human.

 

My friend Autumn took this one when I was 17.

It’s good to remind your kid that you really do get it – that you’ve been there and survived. Sharing my teenage (and current) insecurities gives my kids insights into who I am. It’s way easier for my kids to share their stuff with me after I tell them about the time I had my period all over my chair in World Civ class in 10th grade.

I should warn you that hard questions will be asked when you go this route. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

4. Allow them to explore their passions.

This is the age when most kids struggle with who they are, what their skills are. I think it’s pretty typical to be plagued by thoughts of not being good at anything and feeling like a failure at life. You, the parent, have the best insight into their passions. You know better than anyone what they’re good at, what fuels them. Use this knowledge to your advantage to feed their passions.

It’s inevitable that they’ll have days that feel crummy, it’s part of being human. I remind them of the things they’re good at. I may encourage them to keep trying or to take a break, whichever is most needed.  We find personality tests to take, talk over tea, snuggle and discuss favorite books or movies.

Allowing my kids to try things that I maybe wasn’t so sure about has also been revealing. I didn’t understand computers or YouTube, but my oldest daughter wanted a YouTube channel, so she taught me. I didn’t like science much when I was in school but child #2 really likes it, so we’ve ventured way more in that area than I would have chosen. Turns out I do like science!

Child #3, who will be a teenager next Friday (eek!!!) grew interested in carnivorous plants. He’s always loved nature – dirt, frogs, turtles, rocks, they’ve all resided in our bathtub at some point. My mom bought him a little greenhouse and he’s  learned a lot. Like, adults ask his advice about their plants or animals. I love that!  These may not be things they stay attached to permanently but it’s been so fun to watch them explore the world.I learned that my discomfort or ignorance of a subject was no reason to hold my kids back.

 

Spencer, his own drummer.

 

5. Let them be who they are.

Shoulds and and have to’s have taken up more space in my life than I like. I had no idea how much I valued other people’s approval until my children became their own people. I mean, they were always their own people, but as young adults they begin to assert their opinions and feelings ALL over the place.

I learned real quick that I had to get rid of every should and have-to in my life. I did not realize that I wanted my kids to learn certain things, dress a certain way, and talk about certain things because I wanted others to be impressed with my parenting. Waking up to that realization was u-g-l-y, friends. I had to walk right away from that business because that kind of thinking, that kind of ideology, is only going to cast the shadow of shame onto my kiddos and that has no business in my home. Everyday I remind myself that I, and my children, and everyone, is made in the image of God. Fallible.Correctable. Transformable. Loved.

Boom.

Welcome home to grace.

So, they want to dye their hair, dye it. Just clean up the mess and find the least chemically stuff out there. They want to wear mismatched shoes. Yo, it’s a free country. I still want respect and kindness out of them but who they are is who they are. I don’t want to force them into some mold that wasn’t made for them.

While they live with us I want them to explore their doubt about God, their faith, their education, politics, and literature. I want them to know that under the shield of our family they will always be safe, free from shame. 


I have to say, I really love my teens. I enjoy parenting them much more than I intended. I respect them each so much, and Lee and I never pass through a day without commenting how cool they are.

If you have or had teens in your home, what are some things you do to connect with them? If you don’t, what are some things that scare you about having teenagers? Let me know in the comments.

The Gratitude Project: Week 4

Last night I surprised myself and got excited about Thanksgiving.

Like, really excited.

We didn’t do anything special or even different this year, but all of a sudden I found myself looking forward to cooking with my Mom and kids, playing board games, and hanging out. We ate, we drank, we told fart jokes.  We drug the Christmas tree up from the basement and watched a cheesy holiday movie.

It was so good.

The truth is nothing happened this year that hasn’t happened in years past. This Thanksgiving just happened to fall during a happy time in our lives. Lee and I have been married for 20 Thanksgivings. Some years we’ve seen two meals in one day, requiring a mad dash from relative’s house to relative’s house. Some years we had to ditch plans because of sick kids or car trouble. Some years we ate well, some years we didn’t. Some Thanksgivings found us sharing a meal at a friend’s home, sometimes friends and family found their way to our table. This year it was just us, and I’m grateful for it.

What I’ve learned about gratitude since I’ve started this little project is that you don’t have to feel all the good stuff to know that it’s good stuff. Even though we went through some Hard Times I still made great memories with my kids, I still loved the moments of my life, and the turkey always tasted amazing.

You can experience gratitude even while walking through Hard Times.

So if you felt sad this Thanksgiving that’s okay. If you’re dealing with some anger don’t fight it (but be nice). Maybe you’re dealing with heavy loss and can’t feel much of anything. It’s okay. Feel your feelings no matter how cliche that little line is. You’ll be making memories regardless of how you feel.

Take our family’s Thanksgiving last year, for instance. Our family was still uncertain about everything from job situations, to friend situations. Our lives felt very up-in-the-air. I was still mourning my things being packed away in storage, and Lee was still trying to figure out the job situation.

My brother Erik had been living out of my parent’s house for about 7 months. His meds still were not right. He had transitioned from being a fairly docile, easy to to be with guy to an unpredictable time bomb. My mom and I were still dealing with a lingering cough leftover from a flu that had gone through our family, and we had both just gotten over a nasty UTI. The thought of cooking left us exhausted. We thought going to Natural Bridge State Park for our Thanksgiving meal would be an easy solution. Who doesn’t love a buffet?

We couldn’t make reservations, so we decided that after lunch would probably be a slower time. I felt a little worried when we had a hard time finding parking spaces. I felt very worried when I saw the number of people hanging out. I felt a little relief when I saw the platters of meat, cheese, and veggies for snacking while you waited for a table to become available.

The kids were mildly grumbly about the wait, though two had brought a book along. My parents are generally content to do whatever. I had food and strangers to converse with, two of my favorite things in life, so I had no issues.

Erik, though, was a different story.

Crowds have never been his thing and last year, when he was still riding the ‘find the right medication train’, was no exception. Anything could set him off crying, or yelling, or talking about violent things he believed happened to him. Fortunately he has a pretty serious speech impediment so strangers can generally only recognize every few words. Unfortunately, ‘knife’, ‘murder’, and ‘gun’ are all fairly easy for him to pronounce.

Because I’m the low-key one in the family, best equipped to deal with his brand of weird, Erik was my companion for the afternoon.

Actually, I think it’s because I don’t embarrass easily.

Erik experienced a novel’s worth of emotions in a 3 hour period. I think the only thing that got me through was knowing there was a massive pile of banana pudding waiting for me at the end.

Erik and I walked laps together, the whole while he recited middle school memories, flashes of CNN headline news, and made up events. It went like this:

Erik: When I was in middle school kids took my lunch money.

Kara: How about a happy memory?

E: Yeah. The police shoot people who are bad.

K: Just tell people Happy Thanksgiving, please. People are here to have fun.

E: Okay. Happy Thanksgiving! (in angry Archie Bunker voice)

K: (eye roll) I’m going to eat all the banana pudding when we get up there.

E: Yeah. Me too. (Short pause while he gathers his thoughts) If there’s  a knife up there, though, you should take it. My mom said I’m not allowed to touch knives.

K: Maybe we should go outside…

Seriously. That’s how it went.

The first few laps people would try and talk to us, but after the third or fourth pass people knew to just keep their heads down and not make eye contact with the two nutters mumbling about being beaten up and banana pudding. My kids were simultaneously flustered and furious with their uncle. They were also hungry. Unlike me, however, the veggie and cheese trays did not satisfy their hungry tummies.

I’m not sure how long the wait was, but we finally made it to our table.

The first thing we do when we’re eating out with Erik is try and block him in. Unfortunately we were at a table in the center of the room, so not only was there no trapping him, but we were at center stage. To make matters trickier there was also a piano in the room. Musical instruments are like a magnet for Erik and he lacks impulse control and does not conform to social norms. We knew if he started playing we were done-for. He starts playing and people are like, “Oh, that nice gentleman who seems a little different is playing the piano. Let’s clap and really get him going so that his family is forced to deal with not just him but us, too.”

Maybe that’s not quite how it goes. If you see him playing piano out somewhere you can clap. I won’t be mad.

At any rate, we spent most of the meal bribing him to stay away from the piano, getting our youngest to not run laps around the dining area, and praying that only one drink would spill. When I was finally able to go up for desert all of the other cotton-headed-ninny-muggins celebrating Thanksgiving at the buffet had taken all of the banana pudding. Only the meringue was left. Who does that?

I confess that I thought, “This is my Thanksgiving?”

You know what, though? Looking back on last year makes me smile, even laugh. Mom and Dad didn’t even remember how weird it was. I look back and think, “That was a good Thanksgiving.” This year is different. This year Erik is much more settled, thanks to the miracle of medication and behavior therapists. My kids are happy and have friends, and we have a new community to lean on. Life is good this year, just like life was good last year. There were just different things going on in our lives.

Next year there will be other different things going on.

My point is we’ll be making memories regardless of what’s happening. Holidays just come, they don’t care what’s going on in our lives. Some of the memories of Thanksgivings past may make us smile, some may make us cry. The point of memories is just to remember and savor whatever stuff is swirling around in your life.   It’s not about making the day perfect or special. You know, you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have the facts of life.

That’s an actual quote from the The Facts of Life theme song. I never knew how true and how poignant that song was until this moment. 

At any rate, I hope like heck you had a great Thanksgiving, that no one fought with turkey legs about politics or family history, and that you were able to breathe in deeply and know you were with people who love you.

How to Find Stuff

The other night some of my friends and I were talking about how amazing, awesome, and handsome our husbands are.

Somehow we fell onto the topic of how one person’s family seemed unable to find anything in the refrigerator. We were each shocked to learn that ALL of our people shared the same affliction. It’s called  FRIDGE BLINDNESS.

It’s real, and our families have it.

It goes like this: the person looking for the food item stands in front of the fridge looking for said thing and they just can’t see it. It’s scary and they don’t know what to do so they call for the wife or mom.

“I can’t find the ketchup!” they shout, panicked at the prospect of a meal without the goopy red stuff.

You try to direct them, encourage them by telling them exactly what shelf it is on, behind the milk and under the relish.

It doesn’t help.

Finally, frustrated, you go over and try to see what’s so scary. You realize the prospect of actually moving other things around is just too much. You are needed to move the milk and relish so that the ketchup is actually visible.

One of our friends, Linda,  has a genius plan. She tells the person looking for the thing in the fridge, “Close your eyes. Imagine the thing that you want out of the refrigerator. See the color in your head, the words printed on the package, imagine holding it in your own hand.” The person will look at her expectantly, excited about the picture in their head. Then she tells them, “Now  move things until you have the thing that matches the picture in your head.”

For reference, she says this in a kind, soothing voice NOT a yelling, irritated voice.

Just in case you were wondering.

 

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This is not the printable. This is a friend’s refrigerator. A friend who wondered why I was taking a picture of her fridge. Now she knows.

 

We all thought this was genius, so I’ve made a printable for our refrigerator.

Just click here to print your own:  #1Printable of The How to Find Things in the Magic Box that Keeps Everything Cold.

I’ve known for a while now that a major role of mine in the family is the FINDER OF ALL THINGS, I just don’t know how it happened.

It’s ironic because I am always losing my things. Mainly my phone. I am constantly losing my phone. I probably lose my things because I spend so much time looking for other people’s things.

It could be all their fault now that I really think about it.

Back to the fridge, though. It is completely baffling to me that my people will stand there, with a given task of retrieving something like salad dressing, and behave as though they’re at an art museum. They gaze as though the refrigerator is one dimensional, a painting to be observed, not a 3-D thing to be reached into, whose items can be shifted in order to find the thing being looked for.

The worst is when they open the fridge doors  just to figure out what to feed themselves. There is an inevitable shout, “Ugh! There’s nothing to eat here!”

I used to feel obligated to point out the cheese, meat, fresh veggies, olives, pickles, or leftover whatever. It took me too long to realize that this was a rhetorical question meant only to bait me into a rabbit hole of a conversation that inevitably ended with me fixing that person some kind of food. Usually a peanut butter jelly.

I do make a super awesome peanut butter and jelly.

Fridge Blindness carries over, in case you didn’t know. Remote controls are invisible, shoes hide in plain sight, and no one ever, ever knows where the dish detergent is. Ever.

If I complain about the fact that I have to know where everything is, I get a sweet hug and “At least you know you’re needed.”

Which, on one hand is true, but on another hand, I feel like a robot could replace me pretty easily.

Except for the peanut butter and jelly making.

That’s all me.