Life interrupted. Part 1.

Sometimes you’re going along in life feeling like everything is falling into place quite nicely. Things are working out the way you had hoped and life is good. And then something comes along that changes everything. Life is interrupted.

I was two weeks into a new job; excited about it, but overwhelmed by all I had to learn and wondering if maybe I had gotten in over my head. Still, I was anxious to dive in and learn all the new things. The Christmas season was upon us and life was as busy as ever as our family was adjusting to me not being home to tend to their every need. Our schedule was packed with Christmas activities and concerts, computer training (for me), and parties before Christmas break.

Andy told me he was having some weird episodes of feeling like he was close to passing out. They would come and go and seemed to go away when he laid down. I don’t usually like to jump to any serious conclusions, always assuming it’s nothing. I was quick to tell him it was probably stress and he should eat better and exercise, because I like to think I’m an expert in these kinds of things. So over the next week, we went for a run and I pushed him to get his heart pumping and get some good exercise; while at one point he said he was seeing stars. I did tell him to slow down, since I’m not a total monster.

A couple of days later the near-fainting episodes came back and he made an appointment to see a primary care doctor, he doesn’t even really have a specific doctor because his health has been so good. The doctor didn’t see anything too concerning, but his heartbeat seemed irregular and because of his symptoms, she felt it best for him to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours just to see what was going on. She also recommended giving up caffeine for the time being. He picked up the heart monitor on a Thursday, wore it, then turned it back in on a Friday afternoon, all the while feeling back to normal without anymore episodes. The worst feeling for him at that time was the headaches from no coffee. …

I just clean the bathrooms

I go to this place just to clean the bathrooms. The woman who normally does this job is in the hospital and my friend, who invited me, says there is a need. With cleaning supplies in hand, I step over the dirty, sleeping man to enter the building. I don’t want to admit my fear, but it’s right up front. It stays there until the moment I step into the warm room, which smells of bacon and feels like love. There are only women there at this time sharing a meal, many of them smiling. The line is blurry between who is giving and who is receiving.

Introductions are made as I watch each woman. I see the brokenness intertwined with the beauty. It’s a small little place on a dirty highway where the deeds done right outside its doors are ugly. But inside, music plays, food is served, and women are given the love, respect, and dignity that’s been lost out on those streets.

I make my way to the back where the two bathrooms are. They’re both occupied, leaving me standing uncomfortably looking out the locked back door. A man sits with a woman, half-dressed, sitting on his lap. She looks tired and worn, marks on her body, as she struggles to hold up her head. Maybe she’s drunk, or high, or sick. Or maybe she’s so beaten down she doesn’t know what to do. Maybe it’s all of these things. It’s no matter to the man who pulls her closer, kissing her pale face and neck. I look away, nervous to make eye contact. …

Reading, reading, and more reading…

Reading with my kids is an activity that I have always enjoyed. From the time they were little toddlers and could barely sit through a book, to the age Josie is now where we take turns reading pages to each other. But there is an in-between time in there that is difficult. It’s that learning-to-read time. I’m not even sure difficult is the right word because it’s pretty much torture.

Right around kindergarten/first grade they are going to school and learning letters and sounds and all kinds of new things and they are so excited! But then they have to start putting those letters and sounds together. It’s hard and they need a lot of help and supervision. Maybe this is fun if you are a teacher, or have the patience of a saint, but if you’re just a normal human, it’s the worst. Pronouncing c-a-t can take anywhere from 2-3 minutes and you wait as long as you can before just blurting it out so you can move on to the next three letter word.

Something that adds to this misery is the reading log that the teacher sends home. “Read or have your child read to you for 20 minutes, every night, then record the book title and how many minutes you read”. 20 minutes? When helping a five-year-old read, this feels close to an hour, or also eternity. Lots of deep breaths are required. And so sometimes you make it the full 20 minutes and you feel like you deserve some sort of medal. But then sometimes you just can’t and you wait until your little one is fast asleep before logging their reading minutes and you might fudge it just a bit, strictly for survival. …

Sink or swim

After going to a swimming party this summer, I watched how each of our kids fared in the pool; Charlie jumping off the diving board and never wanting to get out of the pool, Coleman comfortably swimming around with his friends, Judah cautiously jumping off the side, never straying too far from the edge, and Josie kicking around the pool hanging onto a ball to keep her afloat. She whined when I told her that she had to stay where she could touch.

“But Mama! I’m not going to sink if I just keep hanging onto the ball.”

“Right, but that ball is slippery and if you lose your grip, you will sink straight to the bottom and Mama will have to jump in the pool with all her clothes on to rescue you and I really don’t want to have to do that.”

“Trust me, that’s not going to happen!” says the over-confident fourth child who’s never had a swimming lesson in her life.

Swim lessons for our family have been challenging, to say the least, and as it usually goes for a fourth kid, I kind of just forgot, gave up…whatever you want to call it. But because I want to be a responsible parent and not totally give up with the last child, I decided both Judah and Josie needed to learn to swim; or at least get to a point where they could survive if they fell into deep water. I kept my expectations pretty low.  …

The Couches

I grew up on used/hand-me-down stuff. I’ve never minded previously owned treasures, so years ago when my employer, we’ll call her Dr. Smith, offered two gently-used couches for free I jumped at the chance. I was pregnant with Charlie and money was tight. Dr. Smith stated that the couches were a few years old, in good shape, and only needed a good vacuuming. Sounded good to me. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Two of my co-workers, we’ll call them Tweedledum and Tweedledee, said, “You’re lucky! Those couches are nice. They’re a pretty green color and you’ll love them.” They had both babysat for Dr. Smith and enjoyed lounging on them.

A couple of days later, Dr. Smith brought in a cushion so I could make sure I liked it. When I saw it I was puzzled because this was not a solid green color as Tweedledum had told me. It was a blue, green, and maroon striped pattern with different geometric shapes on it.

“Uh, guys, I don’t get it, this definitely is not a solid green color.” I asked, concerned that I might be getting into something that would be hard to back out of.

Tweedledee assured me that the couches she was giving away were green. “Maybe that’s an accent pillow? Maybe she brought that in to show you the shade of green,” she pointed to one of the green stripes. …

Tall tales of stupidity

It’s been two and a half years since working with junior high kids and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but sometimes I miss it. Or maybe it’s more that I miss the stories that came from being around junior high kids.

Today we went to a “Knights of the Round Table” ceremony for Coleman and other middle school students. His school mascot is a knight and the ceremony is held to honor students who have been nominated by a teacher for something outstanding; being a leader, great improvement, something that makes them standout. Coleman was honored for his improvement in Spanish. He was struggling and had missing assignments, but turned things around and now has a B in the class. We were very proud parents as we listened to his teacher explain why she had chosen him for this award.

Student after student was called to stand in front of the group while their teacher  honored each one. I watched each student walk up, shyly, and listen to the kind and proud words that were spoken. Most of them stood awkwardly, some of them  even let out a smile while hearing of their accomplishments. I loved watching every one of them receive their honor, certificate, and have their photo taken. And I loved those teachers for making their students feel so special.

Middle school, junior high, whatever you like to call it, is rough. So much awkward, so much drama, so many smells. One of the things I miss are the conversations. Oh the endless comments that would come out of their mouths. After hours in a van with ten other kids and a very short lull in the conversation, one of them said, “I bet if I stopped talking for just a few minutes things would get so lame.” I wanted to take her up on that bet, but decided against it.

Once, after returning from a retreat in a very long van ride, I was describing the things I had endured to a friend of mine. “Ah yes,” she said. “The days where every kid is interrupting another to share their tall tales of stupidity.” I never thought I’d miss it, but on occasion, I do. I 100% do not miss the smells though.

When the going gets tough

 

We all have those moments when we commit to something and soon after, wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into. I have to think that this might have been what was going on in Coleman’s mind when he committed to being on his middle school’s wrestling team. He was excited, but after 2 weeks of intense workouts and practices every day after school, he confessed that he might want to quit.

“It’s really hard, and it hurts. My body is sore and I just don’t know if I want to keep doing it.” Poor Coleman looked exhausted.

How could I blame him? There’s no way I would ever subject myself to such a vicious sport. The workouts alone would be hard enough, but rolling around on a sweaty mat while getting my body intertwined and twisted up in knots with another human being, on top of wearing a body suit (or singlet) as I hear they’re called. Uh, no.

Coleman decided he was not ready to give up just yet as his first meet was the following week. I admired his determination, despite his aching body, but secretly would not have been at all disappointed had he given up this brutal sport. I shuddered at the thought of my baby getting thrown around.

Coleman’s first meet was similar to our experience at Judah’s first gymnastics meet in that we showed up knowing absolutely nothing about the sport. I watched the other kids meet their opponents with courage; some of them winning and some losing. I asked questions of the family sitting nearby who had watched an older son go through this experience already. I tried my best to understand which moves they got points for and what was illegal.

It was difficult to watch, as the mom nearby warned me. Almost as difficult, was sitting on the bleachers waiting, wondering why the meet was almost over and Coleman hadn’t wrestled yet. I made eye contact with him on the other side of the gym and questioned with my hand gestures if he would be wrestling at all. He shook his head no.

Hold up. I just sat here for two hours to watch my son not wrestle? I looked at Charlie and he went to talk to his friend who was helping  the team.

Charlie returned saying, “I guess since he didn’t make varsity, he’s not wrestling today. But my friend is going to see if he can wrestle in an exhibition match.”

At this point I wanted to see something, even though I just expressed how I hated the thought of my baby getting hurt. Two hours is too long to sit for nothing. Next thing I knew, Coleman was taking off his sweatshirt and putting on his headgear. He faced his opponent from his own team who was in his same weight class, and had wrestled the year before. I had my doubts.

The round began and Coleman came out strong tripping his opponent and taking him down. They went the full three rounds and I figured Coleman was holding his own, since he hadn’t been pinned, but I really couldn’t tell who was winning. The family next to me commented on Coleman’s strength and how well he was doing. The whistle blew and I still didn’t know who had won. The referee took both of the boys’ arms and raised up Coleman’s as the winner. We screamed and cheered as if he had won the world championship because it felt that important.

After the meet was over I found out that this win meant that Coleman had beat out the other boy for the spot on varsity. He couldn’t stop smiling and neither could I. He talked nonstop on the way home explaining all the ins and outs of wrestling and how he won. I listened proudly to the boy who one week before was considering quitting.

We have three weeks left in the season and I’m just praying he survives it with no injuries. But more than anything, I’m challenged by the way he tried something completely new to him that he knew nothing about and he stuck with it, especially when it got hard and he wanted to quit. That’s more than I can say for myself.

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Fruitcake and 20 bucks

Our sweet next door neighbor passed away last summer and her house just now went up for sale. Agnus was in her early 90’s and was the original owner of that house, buying it brand new in 1947. She raised a daughter there and outlived her husband. She was an independent, determined woman who had a mind about how things should be. When Andy once did her a “favor” by cutting back a bush in her yard that was growing over the sidewalk, she surprised me with her reaction.

“Somebody decided to just cut that bush in my yard. Do you know who did that?”

“Yes, Andy did. He was trying to be helpful since it was taking over the sidewalk.” I replied, sensing her annoyance.

“Well, he did a terrible job. If he wants to be helpful, he can cut back your tree that’s hanging over into my backyard.”

Point taken. …

Driving and surviving

“Momma, are you going to write on the blog anytime soon?”

Geez, why do kids have to remind us of the things we are failing at? Yes, Judah, now that you just said that, that is exactly what I am doing.

We survived the holidays here and actually had a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas; right after I almost had a nervous breakdown from over-committing myself once again to a bazillion parties/work/volunteering/celebrations. It was all worth it. It always is. But I cannot for the life of me learn my lesson from year to year.

But a new year is upon us and with it comes a terrifying milestone; Charlie got his driver’s permit. He doesn’t start driver’s ed until Monday, but Washington state law allows a child to get their permit 10 days before the class starts. Would you believe it? So that means that any old 15 1/2 year old within 10 days of starting a proper driving education class can just walk on in with their parent, pay $25 and walk out with the A-okay to drive. Just like that.

“Congratulations! Now you can drive home, if your mom’s brave enough,” chuckles the lady at the DMV as she hands over the permit to Charlie.

“Oh, heeeeeeck noooooo,” was my reply. How is this even legal? He’s a child!!!!!

I drove to the church parking lot 2 blocks down the street from our house and told him he could give it a shot. Just sitting in the passenger seat and looking over at my baby controlling our car made me want to jump out and run home. I didn’t, because I would get in all sorts of trouble. He made it around the parking lot, and then he made it home. No cars hit. No humans hit. We both survived. God bless the insane people who choose to teach a drivers ed class and voluntarily get into cars everyday with people who have never been behind the wheel before. Really. Someone has to teach them.

PS. Shout out to my dad who taught me to drive; a stick-shift, no less. I have all the respect in the world for you.

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One shade of gray

Both of my parents’ hair started to go gray at a relatively young age, so following in their footsteps, mine did the same. Right around age 28 or 29 I began to notice a few gray hairs mixed in with my dark brown. And then within what seemed like a week, there were a lot of gray hairs. This was a big problem for me, since I was not even 30 yet. It didn’t seem fair. I solved my problem quickly by dyeing my hair as close to my natural color as I could, erasing any signs of old age.

And so I continued this pattern for a good 12 years. I was cheap, so I never paid a professional. I just went to the beauty supply store every couple of months and stocked up on color, developer, and disposable gloves. Along the way, Andy protested this routine saying that he liked gray hair and it was a sign of wisdom; something to be proud of, but what does he know.

I turned 40 and felt great because I still had very dark hair and people were shocked when I told them how old I was. But then I was approaching 41 and had gone from dyeing my hair every 6 weeks to needing it every 3 weeks. The gray roots were showing up faster and I hated the contrast of what was growing out and what now looked like black after so many years of #311 Very Dark Brown. I had a decision to make. Carry on like this for at least another 20 years and then deal with “gracefully” going gray in my 60’s, or just bite the bullet and go natural.

I remembered back to a conversation with my sister-in-law years earlier. We were discussing whether or not we would “have work done” on our bodies as we got older, if money wasn’t a factor. She was more open to the idea, but I was way more self righteous saying something like, “I don’t think you should mess with what God gave you. We’re all going to get old someday; things will sag, we won’t look as young as we once did, but oh well. I would never have any work done. It’s so vain.”

She quietly replied with, “And what color is your natural hair?”

Ouch. Point taken.

And so, at almost 41, I decided it was time. I didn’t want to be subtle about this decision. My intention was to go to a professional this time and just dye it all gray; really go for it. I figured this would be the easiest and cheapest way and if my hair was all gray, then growing out the natural wouldn’t be a big deal. If there are any hair stylists reading this, I’m sure you’re laughing at me right now.

I had no idea that when you’ve been dyeing your hair #311 Very Dark Brown for twelve years, you don’t just walk into a salon and walk out with beautiful silver-gray hair. If you’re me, you walk out after 8 hours of sitting in the chair with several shades of red, fried hair, and about $200 poorer. Time to go to plan B.

It was obvious that my hair could not handle the 2-3 more bleaching sessions necessary to get my hair to gray, so I went to see a color specialist who gave me some great information and asked if I was ready to take “the journey” with her to get me to my natural color; gray. Turns out “the journey” was going to cost me at least another five hundred dollars and since I like my journeys to stay under one hundred dollars I moved on to plan C.

After five shades of red and one shade of gray,  I had a decent amount of my hair cut off. I’ve done my best to speed up the process of gracefully going gray and really, there’s been nothing graceful about it. Here I sit with my new short hair, a cut that people say “you have the face for short hair, I could never pull it off,” which is a nicer way of saying, “dang, that was a bold move! One that I would not have made.” It’s okay. It’s just one more step in my journey. At least now I’m down to one shade of red and one shade of gray. Almost there.

 

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