A friend recently posted a link on Facebook to a blog entry by Meg Meeker, M.D. entitled “Mom: Your Kids Love Your Squishy Hugs.” (http://www.megmeekermd.com/2012/11/mom-your-kids-love-your-squishy-hugs/) I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dr. Meeker’s explanation of how children perceive their mothers. She provides excellent insight into what truly matters to our kids when it comes to the motherly physique, and, even more importantly, she gives us an excuse not to work out! Okay, not really, but she did get me to start thinking about how my children see me. This, in turn, caused me to think about how I saw my own mother when I was small.
These days I have a hard time remembering my own last name, but, surprisingly, I was actually able to drum up some memories from my childhood about how I saw my mom. I recall thinking that my mother was the most beautiful woman. I even remember feeling sorry for other kids I knew whose moms weren’t as beautiful as mine. In my shallowness, I wondered if they loved their own moms as much as I loved mine despite their poor mothers’ shortcomings in the looks department. It’s awful, but true.
When I see my mother now, I still see the most beautiful woman. Even through my grown up eyes, my mother is stunning. Age has not changed how I see her physical appearance. It has merely enhanced my view of her. I now see so much more of what makes my mother so special, so unique. She is wise and kind and full of grace. She is infinitely giving of herself. She is patient and gentle. She knows so much, but is always eager to learn. She is extremely creative and so much fun. She radiates joy and peace. On the rare occasion that she is wrong, she is quick to ask for forgiveness. She is even quicker to give it. My mom is warm and welcoming, nurturing and hospitable. She is strong and, yet, humble. At the root of all that my mother is, she loves God with her whole heart, and that love overflows to everyone she meets.
I could go on, but I’ll stop for now. I know she will read this, and I don’t want her to get a big head. (Just kidding, Mom.) I only hope that someday my children will be able to see the same qualities in me that I am blessed to see in my mom.
Having now lived in the deep South, the Midwest, the far North, and the mid-Atlantic regions of our beautiful country (oh, and Florida, which seems to be a region all on its own), I have noticed many similarities and differences in the cultures of each region. As for similarities, food seems to be a unifying force no matter where you live. My husband and I found we like beer & brats (short for bratwurst sausages, not obnoxious children) as much as we love gumbo and crawfish etouffee. I have also discovered that people in the Midwest are just as passionate (read “fanatical”) about football as those of us raised in the Southeastern Conference.
I have also enjoyed the diversity of culture in our country. Some of the differences are drastic and some are subtle. There are differences in dialect. Two such examples include the well-known “y’all” vs. “you guys,” as well as the reference to soft drinks as “soda” or “pop” in Northern states vs. “Coke” in the Deep South. (For my Northern friends reading this, yes, Southerners really do refer to all sodas as Coke…do not be confused if a Southerner asks you, ”What kind of Coke would you like?” and then proceeds to list the names of various sodas.) There are also differences in the ways people interact with one another. Growing up in the grace and gentility of the South, I was worried about moving to the Northeast. Generally, I grew up believing people from the Northeast were, for the lack of a more polite way to say this, rude. I found that they are not rude, but rather honest. They are very kind and friendly (for the most part), and you always know where you stand with them.
As strange as it may seem, of all of the differences that I have observed, the one that stands out most to me is the practice of monogramming. Before Christmas, my mother-in-law sent some adorable outfits to my girls. They were red and green polka-dotted leggings with white t-shirts with the girls’ initials embroidered in red. One day when my girls were wearing these outfits I actually had someone stop me and ask what was on their shirts. When I explained that it was their initials or monogram, she said, “Oh, well that’s a neat idea” and walked away. It dawned on me at that point that I had not noticed children running around with monograms embroidered on everything they own like I do when I am at home. I was discussing this with the ladies in my moms group. One of them told me that while she was vacationing in New Orleans, she had a shop-keeper tell her they could monogram an item she was purchasing for her son. She admitted that she thought it was just a tourist gimmick. It was then that I realized that the practice of monogramming children’s clothing is a Southernism. The rest of the country seems to think of monogramming as something to have done on your LL Bean canvas bag.
While monogramming makes it difficult to pass on hand-me-downs, it also has both aesthetic and practical aspects. It adds a personal touch to clothing and even decorative items for the home. Additionally, I, for one, would be lost without monogramming when I am around my identical twin nieces. There are subtle differences, but, let’s face it, it is so much easier to tell them apart when they are wearing their names or initials on their clothing. I need to look into tapping into this market as I make my way around the country. I could make a fortune.
I am generally not a big fan of winter. While I find pleasure in the beauty each new season holds, I really do not like to be cold. I was born in Louisiana where a few days of temperatures dropping into the 20s are considered a “big freeze” (usually referenced with the year…”You remember…it happened during the Big Freeze of 1994″). My hands get really dry when it’s cold. They get so dry they crack and bleed, and then I have to sleep with socks on my hands. This makes my hands hot, and then I don’t sleep well. The winter I had my older daughter, we lived in Ohio. The temperatures dropped below zero. I will never forget the way the sub-zero air felt when it hit my lungs. It literally took my breath away. However, several years of living in colder climates has taught me the art of layering and the proper use of scarves, so despite my dislike of the cold, I am now better equipped to handle frosty weather.
That being said, after returning home from dropping my daughter off at school today I glanced out of the window. Little white specks were floating down from the sky. Some of these little flurries seemed to be in a hurry, while others seemed to take their time. There were not enough to accumulate, but I was transfixed by the sight none the less. There is something almost magical about snow. I am not sure why. Maybe it is the warm memories snow evokes in the midst of cold weather, or maybe it is just its pure and simple beauty. Had it been a few degrees warmer, I would have been annoyed that it was not only cold, but now rainy. However, for just a few moments during a busy morning during this busy (and cold) season, I stood watching water in its most enchanting form float down from the sky, and it made me smile.
One year ago today, my dear friend Margaret died suddenly in her sleep. It is presumed she died from an epileptic seizure (or possibly two seizures back-to-back) while sleeping. Margaret suffered from epilepsy all of her life. She was extremely intelligent, and she hated the way her illness limited her and kept her from being able to do the things she dreamed of doing in life. Despite her frustration with living in a body that would not cooperate, Margaret was endlessly kind. She was like a ray of sunshine on a gloomy day. She brought joy with her wherever she went. She was beautiful and amazingly creative and funny and a lot of fun to be around. There are several reminders of Margaret in my home. Most of them are gifts she gave to my children. She loved children, and every time I saw Margaret she had books or toys or stuffed animals for my girls. A year after her death, I still think of her several times a week, and I still cry when I do.
My faith gets me through the hard things in life, and really, through life every day. It is a comfort at all times, even when the events of life don’t make sense to me. There are two Bible verses in particular that bring me consolation when I think of Margaret. The first is a verse my brother shared with me shortly after we found out about her death. Revelations 21:4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” This verse gives me great hope. My sweet friend often suffered greatly in the 36 years she lived, but I know that she suffers no longer.
The second verse is one that comforts me every time I think of Margaret. It is the shortest verse in the Bible (a little junior high youth group trivia for you), but to me it is one of the most profound. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” To put this verse in context, Jesus had just learned of the death of his good friend, Lazarus. I remember hearing this story many times as a child, and the focus of the story was always on the miracle Jesus performed when he raised Lazarus from the dead. Because I focused on the miracle, I always overlooked the significance of this one, little verse until last year. Jesus Christ was fully human, but he was also fully God. In the moment of losing his dear friend, he wept. The word “wept” implies strong emotions. It’s more than just crying. Instead of simply telling those around him, “Hang on, I got this,” he wept. He allowed himself to experience the pain of losing someone, the agony of the emptiness felt when you realize that you can no longer talk to, laugh with, or embrace this person whom you love. After weeping, Jesus displayed his own divinity by raising Lazarus from the dead, but for a short moment he was a man, grieving over the loss of a friend. I think what is most reassuring to me about this verse is the realization that the God of the Universe has experienced the pain and sadness that I feel. He can truly empathize with me as I mourn the loss of a beloved friend, and that gives me immense comfort and peace.
My goal is to blog five days a week. As you can see from the number of days between posts, I am not currently meeting that goal. I guess that’s why it’s called a goal and not a requirement. I am sincerely apologetic for my deficiency; I hate to disappoint (all four of my followers). I do have a couple of excuses for failing to meet my goal. Whether they are good excuses or just excuses remains to be seen.
On a positive note, excuse#1, the kitchen, will theoretically be done today. By that, I mean the part that the contractors are doing. We still have just a few things to do: finish painting, clean the floors and cabinets, line the cabinet shelves, put doors on the pantry and half bath, install the new sink, toilet, and towel bars in the half bath, oh, and put everything back into the kitchen. I really cannot complain at all. The contractors will have our kitchen gutted and renovated in two weeks time total. Strangely, I have not been able to write more despite the fact that I have been trapped in my house just about every day for the past two weeks.
My second excuse is not much of an excuse. My mother-in-law was visiting for five days. The reason I include it in my lame list of excuses is because sometimes I feel guilty about being on the computer too much when we have out-of-town guests. The reason her visit is not a good excuse is that she is a HUGE help. She did laundry, ironed clothes (a chore I despise doing), washed dishes in our laundry room utility sink, helped clean up the six inches of construction dust that has accumulated on everything in the house, and kept the kids entertained. She was such a blessing to have here that you can see why my second excuse is a little dodgy.
Hopefully, I can get back on track with my goal on blogging. The good thing about having taken a bit of a break is that I now have several more blog topics in mind.
Even before becoming homebound because of kitchen renovations, I have noticed that lately I start to feel like I am going crazy in the afternoons. The only way I can think to describe it is that I feel like I am going to crawl out of my own skin. I have tried to determine the cause. Am I tired of the kids? Well, sometimes, but generally I enjoy being with them. Is it anxiety over the tasks I have not yet accomplished this late in the day? That is a distinct possibility. Is it a lack of routine in a new place during the summer? That could be. Who knows?
After much consideration, I have decided that some of my afternoon madness could be caused by a lack of adult interaction. I think the lack of contact with other adults is one of the hardest parts of staying home with the kids. I try to meet up with friends at the park or have friends over, but there are some days (especially when we first move) that it just isn’t possible. There are times I am so ready for my husband to be home that I can hardly stand it. (There are other times when I am in a complete panic that he is on his way home, but that’s generally because the house is a complete wreck, as are the children and I.) My eagerness for him to come home is not so I can hand off the children to him, although he does his fair share of taking care of the kids when he’s home. I crave having a face-to-face conversation with another person who has mastered the English language. Even if our conversations are centered on the children or his day at work, I don’t have to guess at what he’s saying. There is no, “I don’t quite understand what you are saying. Can you show Mommy what you are talking about?” or “Why are you crying? Take a deep breath. I can’t understand between the sobs.” Talking on the phone to other adults helps, but it’s just not quite the same.
I have tried to ascertain the best way to combat this madness. I have come up with two possible solutions. I can either take up running in the late afternoon, OR I can start drinking. Running would be healthier, but drinking would be a whole lot easier. It’s still a toss-up at this point.
What is going on? Wait…I remember what this experience is…I’m awake and having coherent, uninterrupted thoughts. I AM ALONE…and loving every minute of it. (Well, alone except for the electrician in my kitchen, but he’s not talking to me or at me or asking for anything.) I cannot remember the last time I was alone for longer than it takes me to take a quick shower before I go to bed. If you have small children, you know that even trips to the bathroom are usually accompanied. My youngest still wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes, so even my sleeping hours are up for grabs. Writing a blog entry without having to stop to feed someone, find something, or take someone potty is a new experience for me. You may be wondering how I managed to acquire this moment of peace.
It all started when we moved to a new city in a new state and decided to buy a house. We knew when we bought our house that we were going to have the counters and flooring in the kitchen replaced. Then we decided that, realistically, moving and buying a home were not stressful enough…let’s renovate the whole kitchen! Okay, so the decision process didn’t go quite that way. We, or mostly me, felt that it would look kind of cheap to replace the counters and the floor, but not the circa 1969, original-to-the-house, poorly arranged cabinets. It pretty much snowballed from there. Currently, we are without a kitchen. (I do have my toaster oven plugged in the laundry room, though, so we can eat a few meals I prepared ahead of time at home…if only I had a microwave and a hot plate, I’d be set.) We did not think that things would move along quite so quickly, otherwise we would have planned better and not had out-of-town guests during the renovations. So the reason I’m alone for the moment is that I “sacrificially” volunteered to stay home with the electrician while everyone else went out to eat lunch. “No, no. You guys go on ahead. I’ll be fine. I’ll find something…but maybe you could bring me back some cake?” I am such the martyr.
I was thinking through my previous blog on the benefits of dog ownership, and I thought it might seem unfair to imply that you have to have a dog in order to meet people in your neighborhood. Certainly you can take walks in your neighborhood without the benefit of a dog. You will probably even meet some neighbors this way (although, most likely those out walking their dogs). However, I would like to point out a couple of things. First, dogs provide the benefit of instant conversation starters. Without one, you will probably only get a passing “hello.” Second, and probably most important, dogs help remove suspicion. Let me explain. Consider this scenario: You decide to take an evening stroll at dusk. You pause in front of your neighbors’ house (and may or may not look into their brightly-lit windows). In this scenario, pause with dog = responsible pet owner; pause without dog = creepy new neighbor. Just a little something for you to think about.
My Dog, a.k.a. Neighbor Bait
In addition to being great companions and useful for mealtime clean-up when you have small children, dogs are an excellent way to meet your neighbors. We’ve had a fenced in yard in only one of the five houses in which we’ve lived. This has necessitated walking our dog a few times a day. I have met more people while walking my dog than through any other means. First, when you are outside of your home for longer periods of time you increase your chances of actually seeing your neighbors. Second, dogs are great conversation starters. Even people who don’t like dogs will stop to talk, although, usually they are just asking if your dog bites.
An additional benefit of walking the dog is the chance to scope out the neighborhood. I have found some pretty cool places near my house that I might not have found were it not for walking the dog. We had the remnants of a Revolutionary War fort just around the corner from us at our last house. Two houses prior to that, we had an ice cream shop a couple of blocks away. Okay, so I would have found the ice cream shop either way, but it was a good excuse to go get ice cream on a regular basis. Daily walks have also given me plenty of entertainment and mealtime gossip fodder with my husband. “Did you see that the people on the corner put some flamingos in their yard to keep the fake deer company?” “Thankfully, it looks like our neighbors are getting ready to move.” “Avoid the lady in the pink house. She’s a little kooky.” You get the picture.
While having a dog has certainly added some work to my daily task load, the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. For someone who moves an average of once every 1.6 years at this point, I would say dog ownership is definitely worth the effort.
I recently completed my fifth move in the past eight years. By move I don’t just mean relocate to a different residence in the same general geographic area. I am referring to packing all of my earthly possessions into boxes, loading them onto a truck, and driving hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of miles to a new home in a new state. Okay. I have to confess. I don’t actually have to do this packing and loading myself. My husband is in the military, so everything is packed and loaded (and sometimes broken and lost) for me. I have to say, though, that this does not make the whole process of moving any less stressful.
In preparation for this most recent move, I thought, “wouldn’t it be nice to have a personal concierge for this new location?” It would be great to have someone to show me where to find the nearest Target, or get my hair done, or meet other people. Every time I move, I have to find the resources offered in my new location. Making these discoveries along the way can be fun, but sometimes the process can be frustrating. (Note the reference to finding a hair salon…after a few bad hair incidents, I have to say that is possibly the trickiest part of moving.)That being said, at this point, I have figured out a few means of coping along the way. My plan is to write about some of these strategies in hopes that others might find them helpful, or at least mildly entertaining.