Worked Up

I love reading letters to younger selves. If I were to write a letter to my younger self I would choose this month to do it. It would short and to the point:

Dear Kara,

Don’t get so worked up. You are loved by the Creator of the universe.

Let that be enough.

Love,

Your 44 year old self

 

 

Back in my twenties, before we had children, my main goal was to make sure people liked me. I didn’t know that back then so it wasn’t like I woke up in the morning saying, “How can I make sure everyone I encounter likes me?”

But it was it pretty close to that.

 

My in laws were… demanding. They had a lot of traditions already in place. The expectation that we would participate in every. single. event. was something Lee and I never discussed before we were married. I think because of my people pleasing ways and Lee’s bend in the same direction we just assumed we could make it work.

We never asked each other what we thought was important about the holidays.

Even when we added children the assumption that we would be at every gathering, on time no less, didn’t change. There were gifts to be bought and food to be made. Meanwhile we were struggling to make ends meet in just our ordinary lives. The added stress to our minimal extra cash was a lot. Nobody forced us to participate. We were invited, not threatened. Still, the unspoken, yet obvious, theme of ‘If you come you are part of the family. If you do not…”

Inevitably, what ended up happening was this: I got very worked up.

Very.

I didn’t share with Lee, except through explosive and tearful outbursts, that the lead-up to the holidays weren’t fun. The time we spent with family was fine, minus the fact that I was exhausted from stress and too much preparation. 

One year something terrible/wonderful happened. Our oldest girls were around 8 and 6 and they got strep throat the day before Thanksgiving. When the nurse came back in with the positive test results the relief that flooded my heart was extremely telling.

The kids were bitterly disappointed but Lee and I were thrilled.

For years we’d been cramming three Thanksgiving meals in. We’d never had the big meal in our own home.

We called Cracker Barrell and ordered four meals. I made pumpkin pies. We lit candles at our own table. We sat around and watched movies. The antibiotics kicked in by Thanksgiving evening and the kids started to feel better.

It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories, because it finally felt like ours and not theirs.

 

I want to be careful to say that I do not blame anyone but Lee and I for our feelings. Again, no one was forcing us. The issue was that both of us were first-born hard-core people pleasers, plain and simple. We could have talked this through before we were married, or at least before we had kids. We were not the victims of family functions.

There’s just so much you don’t know at the beginning of a new thing.

We don’t regret any of those years that we ran around like mad trying to get everywhere on time. I don’t regret our kids being overly tired at the end of all. I don’t even regret the money we spent. I do regret the zen desk garden we purchased for Lee’s dad.

The thing is this: Lee’s dad was killed in a car wreck almost ten years ago and he is estranged family is estranged now. We haven’t seen any of them in years.

We didn’t see any of that coming. Those years that I was crying and sick to my stomach because of all my uncomfortable feelings were the only ones our family would have with Lee’s family.

That definitely gives me perspective.

Now, I’m not saying that you should run yourself into the ground during the holidays because someone could die. Death is a reality in this world for all of us. I think it’s silly to let that truth guide decisions that we make.

I am saying that boundaries are essential and healthy. We had choices that we didn’t know about.

We could have:

  • participated but come at a time that was convenient for us
  • participated but not in the gift exchange
  • shown up after a meal
  • skipped some gatherings
  • said, ‘We’ll let you know what our plans are.”
  • Invited them to ours house, even though it was small
  • divided up the gift buying/wrapping/baking between the two of us

 

We didn’t have the tools to do that at the time, though. I don’t hold that against our younger selves. However, we have learned from our mistakes and simply refuse to get worked up over the holidays.  Because when you’re worked up and upset you miss the gift that is Advent.

You miss the chance to do things slowly.

You miss the message that Christ came to bring us home.

Frantic is not part of the nativity story. Feeling like a failure is not in the Great Rescue Plan. Silent night, holy night doesn’t have the same ring when you’ve ground your teeth every night for a month.

Worked up is more like the work of the enemy. 

I believe that’s what that nasty devil loves: strife at the holidays. People worked up and arguing does not leave much room for thinking on the beauty of Christ coming into the darkness to bring us light. 

So, brave ones, let’s not get worked up. Let’s not get churned up. Let’s not Pinterest ourselves into forgetting about the gift of these holy days.

Let’s not give gatherings and events more power than Jesus has in our lives.

Instead let’s do simple and slow. Let’s look at the calendar and choose what we love, what we need. Leave the shoulds and the have-to’s off.

 

Be brave, misfits, and set up some picket fences on your calendars.

 

 

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Love Your Now

Our youngest is seven and the next oldest kid is 13, then 17, and 19. Liam is a child of the Big Gap. 

I jokingly tell people that it’s like he’s been raised by a pack of wolves.

 I’m only half joking.

Liam doesn’t talk like some seven year olds. He’s picked up on his older sibling’s speech patterns and says charming things like, “What the crap?” and “What up, boieeee?” He refers to all people as dudes, knows what twerking is, and hands out sarcasm like a pro.

The sarcasm thing may not be the fault of the teenagers.

This sweet little boy of mine enjoys Curious George, yes, but when he was three Gollum was his favorite character.  When we’re doing our annual once a year family photo Liam yells “photobomb” just before the shutter clicks.  No matter how many takes we do he is always caught  jumping Superman style in front of everyone, tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth,  eyes crossed.

Most last-borns tend to have big personalities.

Our Liam definitely has charisma.

See? Charisma.

That Big Gap means that I sometimes scoot him along with the others, forgetting that he is not just small but also young. I kid that he never got to nap in his own bed, but it’s not much of a joke. He learned to sleep anywhere as a baby.

Now that he’s older I have to put effort into providing him similar childhood memories as his siblings. My three older ones played with each other constantly, always outside. 

Liam has no close-in-age sibling to pal around with in the back yard, though. I will say he’s extremely adept at playing alone. As long as one of us is close he’s pretty content to do his own thing.

One thing I’ve noticed about him, though, is that he loves one on one time with each of us. He’ll take time each week to visit his sisters in their room, hanging out and chatting about Minecraft.

Always Minecraft, endless conversations about Minecraft.

He and I go on a walk every morning and we just talk. I love talking to this kid. It reminds me of when the others were young, when we spent our days talking with each other.  He has a thing he likes to do with each family member, too. Liam and Kiley watch movies together. Liam and Laurel go to the park. Liam and Spencer wrestle (then fight). Liam and Dad do things that Mom says no to. Liam and Mimi find stuff on YouTube. Liam and Grandad go to stores together. Liam and Mom do all the things.

 


 

Sometimes Liam asks me for a brother who is his age. Actually, he asks me for a twin and doesn’t get it when I tell him it’s too late for that.

I feel kind of bad when he asks for a sibling.

Our family looks the way it looks, though, and there’s no changing it. Plus, I love getting him all to myself.  When the older kids are out doing their young adult thing he and I get to do 7 year old stuff. 

The feel of his still-small hand in mine, the weight of his body on my lap, and the grassy smell of his hair anchor me in the present. He reminds me not to take parenting teenagers too seriously. Liam makes me realize how little my others were at that age. I didn’t know that then.

I thought they were so big.

To the mom that I was then, they were. The mom that I am now, though, sees 7 as very little. Perspective literally makes you a different parent, a different person. 

That’s okay.

Sometimes I feel badly that my older two didn’t get this chilled out version of me. The me that let Liam dye his hair green this summer. The me that  doesn’t care that some of my people  (boy people) wear the same clothes for more days than I think is healthy.  The me that’s okay with where we’re at in life tells the ghost of my past self to pipe down.

Her days are done.

I can honestly say that each of my kids got the best version of me that I could offer.

That’s all we can each do.

I find that I love having a big gap between my three kids and my last born. I will admit that every now and then I find myself wondering what it would be like if Liam had a sibling close in age to him.

But he doesn’t, so there.

What he does have, though, is a family that loves him very, very much. My older kids share stories with Liam of tickling his belly during diaper changes, rocking him to sleep, watching him learn how to walk, and seeing him fall asleep in his highchair. He loves hearing those stories. 

Those stories remind him that he’s always been ours.

Now that they’re all getting older I’m finally experiencing Liam as all mine, just a little.

I love that dabbing, pop-culture savvy Big Gap Child of mine. He reminds me that everything turns out the way that it’s supposed to be. Liam reminds me to love right now.

I asked for a serious face. I sure got one.

 

Every day I seem to be learning the lesson of loving where I’ve landed. Every day I seem to be learning to let go of plans and pictures. Every day I get a chance to embrace the amazingness of now, with  my big (semi-adult) kids and my big gap child, my hubby, my parents, my brothers, the sky that always astounds me, and the grass that feels wonderful beneath my bare feet.

Be brave, misfits, and love your now.

 

 

 

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Disaster Preparedness

My husband and I are completely different.

I mean, I know that goes without saying. There’s the whole male/female thing. What I’m saying is that we operate in COMPLETELY different ways.

He operates under the ‘everything is great’ premise, while I operate under the ‘at any minute we could face disaster’ premise.

A couple of years ago we took the kids to the beach. It had been a long time since we’d been to the ocean so I prepped them on the drive down.

Thank goodness we had twelve hours.

We went over drowning protocols, jellyfish scenarios and practiced CPR. It made time go so much faster.

When we got to our house on Dauphin Island it was dark but Lee wanted to take the kids to the ocean. You know, to say hello. So we climbed up a sand dune and followed the sound of the ocean. We got lost in some brush and had a family argument. I’m sure everyone on the island heard it. Some kids were crying and one lost a flip flop.

We made it there, though, and could almost see the ocean. I think Lee felt vindicated that the kids were as happy as the were to be near the ocean.

In daylight we could see that we had chosen the wrong path, the one that led to the crappy part of the beach. I didn’t gloat, though.

I was satisfied with a look of superiority.

Our beach, as we called it, was perfect. It had shallows where clusters of hermit crabs were gathered, ripe for us to examine. There was a long stretch of sand we could walk out on and there was a deeper part perfect for body surfing. I found a spot on the beach to sit and watch.

Thirty minutes later Lee came up to sit with me, smiling, covered in sand, and slightly out of breath.

“You having fun watching the kids?” he asked.

“No. I’m looking for sharks. I heard on the radio that one was spotted this morning by a fishing boat. Also, a local man drowned last week while fishing so we need to keep an eye out for undercurrents,” I answered.

No sharks. Yet.

Lee was looking at me like I was nuts.

“Is that what goes on in your head?” he questioned.

“I packed some snacks if you’re hungry,” I deflected. He smiled and started rifling through the bag, “I didn’t want anyone getting low blood sugar or dehydrating.”

He huffed and headed back to the water.

It works out pretty well in his favor, though, that I plan for disasters. Because when things do go wrong I’m there with an amazing plan.

Unless I’m overly tired. Then I’m not so great with a plan.

A few weeks ago we were driving back from an ultimate frisbee tournament in Ohio. The hotel was nice but someone in our group snores. I’m not naming any names, but it’s not me or any of the kids. Well, I do snore but  not that night. What I’m saying is that I had no sleep for two nights.

There’s only so much coffee can do that for that situation.

We were driving home by way of Cincinnati when a strange beeping started. At first I thought it was my phone, but no, that wasn’t it.

My next assumption was that the car was getting ready to explode and that we needed to immediately pull over. This caused some of the children to begin panicking.

Well, just Liam. Kiley and her beau were laughing, like it was a joke.

As if there were no way that the car could blow up.

Anyway, we have an AED that we take with us. That’s not part of my planning for natural disasters. Three of the kids and I have Long QT Syndrome so the AED is a precaution, like an epi-pen.

Kiley applied her logic and deduced that it was the AED, which  had been tilted on its side for a little longer than it was apparently happy with. We uprighted it and the beeping stopped.

I took a nap.

Before I fell asleep, though, I remembered when I had a job at a video store when I was in college. I’d been watching The Godfather before I closed the store for the night. It was about ten o’clock at night, so I was sleepy.  When I got into my car I heard ticking and assumed someone had planted a car bomb.

I wish I was making this up.

I called Dad and begged him to come and investigate. I think I was crying. I’m glad I didn’t call 911. It seems I had forgotten  that I had an old fashioned alarm clock in the glove box. I liked to take naps in my car in between classes and needed the alarm to wake me. (It was before cell phones, and my watch beeping would not wake me).

Poor me.

Dad rolled his eyes and went home.

One day my husband and the rest of the people who just enjoy life as though nothing bad could ever happen will be thankful that they have people like me.

They will rue the day that they laughed at me! Then I won’t be a ‘worry wart’ or ‘nervous Nellie’! No! Then I will be their hero, the one that they look to in times of trouble.

If only they didn’t count on me for meal planning.

 

I think zombie apocalypses are my specialty. 

 

 

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