glowing oasis

I wish every night could be like tonight. But I suppose then it would not have felt so special, so wonderful, so absolutely like an oasis to a weary traveler journeying through desert lands.

I have not posted here for quite some time. There are a plethora of reasons but they mostly boil together to just one.

Sometimes in life, I have to lay down the things I love, like writing, because the rest of life is stretching me thin. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially.

The perfectionist in me screams and shouts that I don’t really need breathing room. What I need is to simply organize differently and push myself harder like everyone else. Then I can do it all.

I hate that perfectionist.

But then, magically, a night like tonight sneaks in. An old groupon we purchased a few months ago during a brief moment when we had the tiniest bit of breathing room in our finances is about to expire.

So we pack up the boys and head out to a fancy restaurant. One of our favorites back when we were dating and had what I believe is still called “discretionary income”.

I prep the boys.

“Dad is taking us to a fancy restaurant. Probably the fanciest restaurant we will ever take you to. At these kinds of restaurants it is important to use your best behavior. When we get there, I will have a story to tell you about this restaurant and your dad and me.”

After we arrive, before they seat us at our table, I take the boys aside.

“Your dad and I came to this restaurant on the night he asked me to marry him. We came here to celebrate. That year, there were really big storms and on the night we came, this bottom section….here, come here and see….these big windows were all boarded up and no one was sitting downstairs here.

But this was one of our favorite places to go, so instead of leaving, we went upstairs. Come on, I’ll show you.

Right over here is where we sat. The rain was falling hard and the waves were high but we could hardly see because it was so dark. I remember watching the storm through the stain glass in this window.”

During dinner, the boys all got along and used the best manners they could remember. Bravo boys.

My oldest son tasted crab cakes and lobster for the first time. He loved them both. We could be in trouble.

After dessert, all three boys hopped over the rocks separating the patio from the beach together in search of shells. I sat back with my husband and took the moment in.

The glow sticks Phil thought to get for the boys lit up the van the whole way home. Camaraderie, nostalgia, joy, and love saturated the air. Tears slowly seeped from my eyes. Oh, how I wish I could bottle this night up and keep it forever.

This post was written several months ago….I was surprised this evening that I got it all the way onto WordPress but didn’t finish to publish! There will be more coming and this is not a current snapshot but it is an accurate one from the time it was written. Keep checking because I will be back!

a new mantra

Her words sank in and offered me a whole new way of looking at things. Previously I would have seen my shortcomings, my failures as a mother. On top of that I would have inflated the emotions of my son to eclipse anything else.

Now I saw an opportunity to empower him.

I find it so amazing how just one little thing, just one little sentence can turn a light on in a room I didn’t even realize was dark.

But Zachary, you did just the right thing, didn’t you? You called out and mom heard you and you found each other. You took care of yourself.”

This was new.

Not the chatty mom who made a pit-stop on our way out of school. My poor children are quite accustomed to my tendency to find and stop at any opportunity to have a meaningful connection with someone.

But when I make such a pause and my children are young enough to not realize this and they keep going, they loose me. They look around and mom has mysteriously disappeared. Panic may set in to their small little hearts.

Thus what happened to Zachary this day. And when his nervous holler for mom found it’s way to my ears, I responded how I always did. “I’m so sorry, honey! I stopped and didn’t tell you. You must have been scared. I am so sorry.” Because, of course, this is all about me and how terrible I am.

But then she affirmed my son and his ability to find his way out of a sticky situation.

He took care of himself. Wow. That is something that has taken me almost 40 years and a lot of therapy to do. And my then three-year-old did it without even really thinking about it.

Children solve problems. All the time. And I WANT my children to be problem solvers. I want them to know how capable they are. But I realized in this moment that sometimes I take away their natural problem solving skills because I am so wrapped up in my own self.

This became my new mantra. My eyes were opened to how my children solve problems all the time, all over the place. And I could point that out to them. So that then they know they have this very important skill. And hopefully it grows.

mantras

Her comments struck me. I was hit with an ah-hah and a rush of relief all at once. I am not alone.

A few moms gather chatting on the playground with our younger kiddos after the olders have been safely swept away into their classrooms. We join together not everyday, but many. There is a certain ritual about it. And honestly, it helps me breathe.

Not because we have such profound conversation while our children run and play. We slur our way through most of it while the coffee kicks in. I am settled in my soul simply because we are together. There is so much extraordinary in ordinary life, if only I see it and let it in.

Out of my mouth came one of the phrases I often find coming out of my mouth toward my children and I expressed the frustration of repeating myself to my friends. When will they learn?

The camaraderie was a warm blanket set on my shoulders as we all related together. And then one of my friends used the word “mantra”. Comfort gave way to peace.

It was as if Legos I had been trying to force together the wrong way had just been straightened out and the puzzle was solved. They clicked.

These things I repeat over and over to my children, they are not just for them. They are not things that can be mastered in one day, one week, one childhood, or even one lifetime. They are learnings of life. They are things that no one ever masters, not my children and not me, but we all simply continue to learn through the process of life.

They are things we need to hear over and over and over again because they are truths easily forgotten. Easily misunderstood. Easily cast aside.

They are in fact, mantras. Things that help us as we chant them over and over. And I realize in this moment that I need to hear these mantras just as much as my children do. Because I want them to become a part of me. But I am not the only exacerbated parent who tires of chanting from time to time.

Every family has different mantras. Some help us, some beat us down. Sometimes the difference between the two is all in the delivery or the interpretation. God, help my tone of voice breathe life into my family instead of shame.

Everyone has say over their own bodies.

We don’t get to make other people’s choices for them.

Listen to your body, it tells us some of the things we need.

Love is not earned.

It’s okay to think different things.

Our choices affect our future.

Outside energy is a good energy to have, it just belongs outside.

Everyone feels disappointed when we don’t get our way. But it’s also important to learn how to move on with life afterward.

Those are some of my favorite mantras from the Koo family, but I am curious…..what are yours?

calendar rebellion

They were just the words I needed to hear. Which is exactly why we read, right?

I have a love/hate relationship with my calendar. I used to love organizing and keeping things inside the lines of the nice, neat, pre-printed squares. And my pocketbook sized calendar fit in any purse. Easily managed.

Then I had children.

And everything got a little hinkey. I had to get a bigger calendar. Then I had to get a bigger purse to accommodate for the bigger calendar. Would be nice if they sold bigger brains.

Then I had my third child.

That is when the color-coding started. I know. But when my brain went ADD, my calendar countered with OCD.

Not long after that, I rebelled. Against the calendar. Too many colors, too many appointments, too much to keep track of. Just chuck the whole thing. Live life in the moment.

But when I have five people in my family with dental appointments and karate lessons and play dates and coffee dates and school and laundry and dinner and dishes and and and and and and and……life, my little brain has be known to forget a thing or two.

But once I write ALL those things down and actually look at it, rigor sets in. Thus the love/hate.

This is so hard. No wonder I feel like I am running a sprint that never ends all the time. I am.

I cannot possibly do it all. So I will sit here in my paralytic state and enjoy the warm cozy feeling of overwhelm. How on earth do single parents survive?

Then I read this post from my friend Leeana. She is married to a SEAL. Leave it to the SEALs to make the impossible sound fight-able.

So the last few days I have been attempting to channel my inner SEAL. Yesterday was the only easy day, I keep chanting to myself. My how I love a good mantra.

Maybe I don’t hate my calendar after all.

chicken fingers

This was a celebration for me. A marker of growth, of change for the good.

A few years ago, I let myself see an ugliness inside of me. It was something I tried to hide from for years before that. I was too ashamed to admit, even to myself.

I have resisted writing about my ugliness because it comes out in context with one of my sons and it is my ugliness, not his. I would never want for him to someday read my writing and do what we as children always do, internalize our parent’s brokenness as our own defectiveness.

But these chicken fingers were just too much to pass up. So here I go.

chicken fingers

I have had trouble accepting my middle son for exactly who he is. Don’t get me wrong, simultaneously I recognize and love what he brings to the table and how he gets me outside myself.

But he’s different than me. And when it comes to being different, I like to think I am the right way and anyone else is the wrong way. Apparently that includes my children. Great.

He likes to make messes and struggles to clean them up. He’s well liked and sweet and tender and makes some pretty great choices on who to be friends with, but he’s also just a little bit…..awkward. Quirky. Unique.

And he doesn’t like words. And words are how I function. They’re my strong suit.

But that’s not how he wants to be loved. He is intuitive. He senses what is going on behind the scenes, in my heart. So that means I have to actually work through my issues instead of just covering them up by using the right words.

Fantastic.

chicken fingers-3

What kind of mother has trouble accepting her child?

I will tell you.

The kind of mother who has trouble accepting herself. Fully. Un-conditionally. Wholeheartedly.

Because what Brene Brown says is true. We can only accept others to the degree we accept ourselves.

Finally, eventually, I became safe enough to myself to go below the surface and deal with the issues that lie beneath. The process has been slow and scary.

But bit by bit, I work my way through. I have in no way arrived, but I am not where I used to be. And these chicken fingers told me so.

We call this Abby’s chicken. There are eggs and flour and dredging involved which means….messes. And my Colby loves to embrace a good mess.

chicken fingers-5

Which is exactly why I avoid cooking with him. Because undoubtedly my perfectionism flares and I end up sending messages either spoken or unspoken that he is wrong for being the way that he is. Lovely.

But this time, I delighted in Colby and his chicken fingers. I laughed and celebrated his jois de vive. I let go and embraced the process. And of course, I had to take pictures, which he loved.

Growth shows in the little things. Like making chicken with my son. And enjoying it. And more importantly, enjoying him.

relief

Relief washed over me. As the movie ended I realized I am not all that different and terrible than most any other loving, human parent.

I have gone back and forth about whether or not to publish my next post. The words have been sitting in my computer since last year. This is one of the loose ends I set a goal in January to tie up.

But I have been dragging my feet every step of the way.

It is no secret how vulnerable I am here. Some of you may think that it comes easily. Sometimes it does.

But other times it doesn’t. And so far, this next post has been the toughest.

I am not sure why. Truly, the post celebrates growth. And in that I my desire is to communicate hope. If I can change slowly bit by bit, anyone can.

But in the process I admit something to my readers that took years for me to admit to myself. And I feel ashamed about.

Even after I cleaned it up and uploaded it to have it all ready to go and just needed to press “publish”…..drag, drag, drag. I was going to push that button on Thursday.

My feet turned cold. Well, I will have a good one for Monday, I thought. But secretly I wondered if I could find anything else to write about to replace it. Maybe it could sit on the eternal shelf.

Then I watched The Odd Life of Timothy Green. And I realized my dear little post that feels so incredibly naked to me, so trusting of those around me to be gentle and kind to me and my son after reading it, is a common story.

I face what all parents face.

There are times when we want to take those things that make our children unique and beautiful and change them or cover them up. We think we are trying to protect them, working for the good of our children.

But really we are simply passing on our issues to our children, instead of dealing with them ourselves. And from experience I can tell you, passing them on is so much easier than facing them.

So one more day until I post it. I want as many other parents out there who maybe struggle with themselves in the midst of parenting to know that they are not alone. So feel free to spread the word.

Until then, go rent the movie. It’s definitely worth it.

The Liebster….continued

leibster-blog-award

As per Liebster…11 Random Things About Me

1. My two oldest boys are born on the same day three years apart. My husband says he should have bought a lottery ticket that day.

2. I have at least two books in me to write.

3. My third child was a bit of a surprise.

4. I’m going to get a bunny rabbit soon. Been dreaming and researching for months.

5. I believe everyone on the planet could benefit greatly from a form of therapy called EMDR (look it up….seriously). I know I have.

6. I used to hate the color pink. Then I had all boys.

7. I believe big over-arching core values are expressed in small, everyday choices.

8. I wish I had a little more of an achiever in me.

9. I don’t like soda or coffee or alcohol. Or juice. Basically I’m a water girl. Not because I have some moral high horse to stand on, I just don’t like them. And I think that makes me kinda boring, but my friends seem to like me anyway.

10. My children currently cross the spectrum of preschool, elementary school, and middle school. Boo-rah!

11. I used to think I had parenting all figured out. Then I became one. For that matter I used to think I had life all figured out. Then I got one.

Questions posed for me on hiddinsight….and my answers

1. What are you getting for your spouse/significant other for Christmas?
Totally not exciting, the years have been lean lately…..khaki’s and a reversible belt.

2. Where is the kinkiest place you have ever had sex?
**blush**

3. What is your biggest regret?
Hmmm, don’t know that I have one. All my choices have lead me to where I am now. And some have provided rich life learning I apparently had to acquire through experiential learning.

4. What is something that you have done to keep the love alive in your marriage?
Work through my own issues (with the help of a therapist). The more whole I am the more capable I am of loving my husband.

5. What is your “fettish”?
Accessories (although not sure if that is what you mean by “fettish” 😉 )

6. Where is your favorite place to shop?
I am actually not a shopper (gasp!). It will be the thrift store once I learn the in’s and out’s of thrift store shopping.

7. What is the difference between living and existing for you?
Great question!!! Freedom to desire (and wisdom to find the desire underneath the desire if you get what I mean).

8. What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?
People are judging me? Danggit.

9. When you are 80 years old, what will matter to you the most?
Same thing that matters the most to me now….people.

10. What makes you smile?
Snuggle time!

11. If not now, when?
Ever since my third son came on the scene unannounced I have learned to roll with what life brings because it will likely be a whole lot better than what I had originally planned.

shotgun

What is he doing here? I am surprised almost every time I notice he is next to me. My son now sits in the front seat of the car. In fact, that was the highlight of his twelfth birthday a few months ago. Forget the gifts or the fun. The best part for him was getting to sit shotgun.

There are some definite up sides to the whole thing. This means that now, in our minivan, the boys cannot touch each other when we are driving around town. Tremendously helpful. Peace is possible (sort of).

And since he is right there next to me, I can pass him my phone when I remember a text I need to send and simply dictate. When his little brother drops something, he can see behind my seat and pick it up for him. He can change the station on the radio (confession: not always a “pro”).

But now I have someone next to me pushing buttons, asking questions about driving (four more years, but now that he can see out the windshield he’s all about it), and just generally being in my space.

And as a mom of three, I don’t have much space. My “adult world”, no matter how limited my visits there may be, has been my place to take off the mom hat.

Now I have a twelve year old who is learning the ropes. He needs to come visit that adult world bit by bit with increasing frequency, just to try things out, look around, and get a feel for the place. Developmentally this is time.

Emotionally speaking for me? Not so sure.

I may, from time to time, feel as though my toes are being stepped on. I may feel a bit territorial. Especially when it comes to my van. The one I have been driving around for the last eleven years. Sharing the van, but having the front section all to my adult self.

But this is good. Always good for me to have something tangible to represent the intangible. I see things clearer that way. They make more sense to me.

So now I see – with my son sitting in the front seat of the van – that I am going to need to share things I haven’t had to pry my fingers from just yet in this adventurous process of motherhood. And like I said, it is time. He is ready. He will never learn to function in the adult world if I don’t let him in.

And so begins the process of learning to have a relationship with my growing-up son who will always be my child, but will not always a child. 

my minivan and me

Is this as good as I get?

As a vibrant, young bride-to-be, this question unexpectedly nagged my psyche. I had always dreamed of looking my “best ever” on my wedding day. But as the day drew near, I began to think about the days after I was a blushing bride.

Would it be all downhill from there?

Fortunately, that question disappeared as I walked around in my white dress next to the man I love, surrounded by all the people we cherish, brilliant colors bursting from the flowers and delighting my eyes wherever they looked.

And then yesterday when I was vacuuming out my minivan, the answer came to me.

We call her our “silver bullet”, and I will never forget the day my husband came home with her. His chest swelled with pride as though he had just hunted us down the biggest, fattest pig ever that was going to keep us fed for years to come.

I was so grateful. She sparkled with her shiny paint and fancy sliding doors. She was a dream come true. And she has proved particularly helpful considering more of her seats are filled now than we originally aniticipated!

I have to confess; she’s a mom car. She gets beaten up a bit. And neglected. All for the greater good, but still. The past few weeks (okay, maybe months) I have noticed she needs a vacuum taken to her insides as the stray animal crackers, cheese-it crumbs, and general grime have been accumulating to epic proportions.

But I kept putting it off thinking, “What’s a few crumbs mixed in with all the stains?” Because vacuuming will only get her so clean. She’s got a plethora of permanent scars now. (Note the picture of the floor mat as only one example.)

And as I finally took the time to clean her up I smiled to myself. Those stains have come from holding a lot of life in her seats. My van may not sparkle like she did the day we got her, but she has served us faithfully and valiantly. And I find her even more beautiful now than I did then.

She and I may have more in common than I want to admit. Perhaps I was a blushing bride on our wedding day, but the truth is I have sustained some damage over the years as well.

Stretch marks. Bulging veins. Hands that have aged from endless washings after diaper changes, cleaning toilets, and cooking countless dinners. And now the wrinkles are setting in. Oh the wrinkles.

I have to admit, I am not too thrilled about all of it. But I’m not ashamed of it either.

Raising a family with the man that I love is has required more from me than I ever thought it would. And it is worth every ounce, every “stain” I acquired along the way.

Funny how a definition of beauty can change over time.

eyes to see

Sometimes I need help remembering what life is like from his perspective. I have a tendency to be human and forget that not everyone sees from my point of view. Especially my children.

When one of them gets a hold of my camera and starts snapping, there are often at least one or two pictures that shock it into me. Life literally looks different when you are the size of a child.

This time it was the youngest. He looks up at things I look down on. He sees things I ignore. He treasures things I want put away.

And somehow seeing that different perspective captured in an actual image that was taken with one part creative license and another part random chance drives the point home to me clearly.

My perspective is not invalid. And neither is his. But they are entirely different from one another.

My parenting may not change much as a result. Except for my understanding and compassion for my children. Which is everything, really.

So thank you, my son, for asking to take pictures with my camera. And thank you, me, for saying yes and being willing to let someone small handle something big that cost a good chunk of money.

Because out of it comes a priceless reminder that my set of eyes is not the only one in the world. That life is different when you’re four. Or eight. Or almost twelve. Or anyone besides me.