Like Riding a Bike

Today I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I rode a bike.

I did not ride this kind, and I did not end up on my face. So all in all, a good experience.

I did not ride this kind, and I did not end up on my face. So all in all, a good experience.

My bike sat discarded in the garage through the births of three kids and a lot of sleepless nights that produced days when bike riding was the last thing on my mind. I taught my own children to ride, but I have never been much of a rider myself, so I never rode it. In fact, I think the last time I rode a bike was the summer after my oldest was born. I can’t remember any bike riding after that.

Once in a while the kids ask me to ride with them, and I say something like “I don’t really like to ride. I’ll walk, and I’ll meet you at the park (or wherever).” They’re old enough to do that now. Before I could let them go ahead, I sat outside with a book or the phone and watched them ride up and down the street in front of our house. Today I decided to join them.

I don’t know what got into me. Why did I decide this was a good day for me to break my 12-year bike-riding moratorium? Whatever the reason, I found myself pumping up the tires on my husband’s bike (mine has squeaky brakes, and, believe me, I don’t want to draw any more attention to the middle-aged me wobbling down the street than necessary). I got on confidently. I mean, why not? I don’t have any skinned-up-my-whole-body stories to tell. I took off down the driveway. It went faster than I expected. A lot faster. I tried to put on the brakes, but I realized I reverted back to the bike riding I learned as a five-year-old…when there were brakes on the pedals. I felt a moment of panic as a tree approached and I veered around it while frantically groping for the brakes. Somehow I managed to stop slowly enough that I didn’t hurtle forward over the handlebars.

What my girls saw when I got on the bike today.

What my girls thought of me when I got on the bike today.

As my heartbeat returned to normal, I heard the girls behind me. They weren’t laughing, thank goodness. Instead they were worrying. “Do you think we should do this? Maybe she’s not ready,” one of them said. “It’s been a long time. I’m not sure she really knows how to ride one,” the other one answered.

“We’re not going until you ride down the hill and back up,” my oldest called out to me from the driveway.

“What do you mean? I’m fine. Shut the door and let’s go!” I answered.

“Uumm…I’m not so sure. The ride up the hill is pretty hard.” Now keep in mind this hill is barely visible. I’m not kidding. We live in Nebraska, people. It’s not the Rocky Mountains. I rode back up to them, convincing them I was ready.

Here’s some of what I heard on the way:

“She’s still back there, Hannah. She’s ok!” (after turning to check on me).

“What would happen if Mom fell and skinned her knee really bad? Would she cry?” LIKE I WASN’T EVEN THERE!!!

“She’d probably get mad and make us leave her alone!” What am I, a mother bear?! ROAR! Sadly, they’re probably right.

So what did I learn from the bike riding experience? For one, the old saying is true. You don’t forget how to ride a bike! I was a little nervous riding with children around me. Children who tend to cut in front of me and make me think I was going to hit them and maybe do something like run over them. But I’m pretty glad I did it.

Second, I probably should do more things that I’ve written off in the last decade. My kids have been my excuse for not bike riding, not travelling, not working out, not doing more stuff like that. For a long time, they really were too young to do much with, and for a long time I mourned losing those things that I would have done if there were no kids. Then somewhere along the way I started kinda liking not doing a lot of different stuff and fell into a habit of doing the same things all of the time. They’re older now. Maybe it’s time to branch out.

Hopefully, it won't come to this.

Hopefully, it won’t come to this.

Third, they’re going to take really great care of me when I get old. I always wondered if they’d just let me wander off down the interstate in my nightgown in February, but apparently they are pretty good mother hens. Maybe we’ve done something right. Whew! It’s about time we saw some fruit of all these years of labor!

I’ve been sitting in the library writing this. I just heard the librarian say that the library closes in fifteen minutes.

Does this mean I have to ride home?!

 

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I Was a Cemetery Telemarketer

This looks all too familiar.

This looks all too familiar.

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. I had a traditional library job in high school. I spent hours shelving and organizing books. Hated every minute of it. The only thing good about it was the hours. I only worked 4-6 a week, so I spent a very small amount of time in there. I should have liked it. I thought I would because I love books. I just don’t like that super-quiet atmosphere with repetitive tasks, and, honestly, the people I worked with were a little odd. I went back to that library a few years ago, about 20 years after I quit, and I understood why I didn’t like working there. It wasn’t one of those fun libraries where kids play and enjoy the books and story time and all. It was one of those libraries where, when your cell phone rings because you accidentally forgot to turn it off, the entire place turns and shushes you. No thanks!

Maybe if my library looked like this one at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, I would have enjoyed it more.

Maybe if my library looked like this one at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, I would have enjoyed it more.

So I decided one summer during college to do away with the boredom. I got a job in a cemetery. Row after row of graves has got to be more exciting than a library, right? I came home for the summer and spent a couple of weeks looking for a job. Any job. I had no luck until a desperate employer jumped at the chance to get a naive, poverty-stricken college person in its grasp.

Not really the cemetery where I spent my free time that summer. I'm not including pictures of that one, mostly because I did not care to take any!

Not really the cemetery where I spent my free time that summer. I’m not including pictures of that one, mostly because I did not care to take any!

My job was telemarketing. That in and of itself is weird. When I tell people I was a telemarketer for a cemetery, they look at me like I’m nuts. What was I telemarketing? This particular funeral home/cemetery offered a free burial space to every person. That’s right. Free for the taking. They really did give it to people, too. There was a catch, however, since there’s no such thing as a free lunch…or a free cemetery plot. They sent a representative/salesperson to the house to deliver the deed to the property, and that person tried to sell more. Who doesn’t want a plot next to them for their wife or husband or cat? And if they’re getting a free plot, don’t they want to buy a headstone as well?

I worked in the evening. You know, the time when most people are sitting down to eat their dinner or watch their favorite tv shows because that’s the prime time for telemarketers to strike. I had a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers. These came from some mysterious giant telemarketing phone book and were listed not alphabetically, like most phone books, but in numerical order. Because of this, we could see where numbers were skipped. We knew they were left out for a reason: the owners of the numbers had requested that their numbers be unlisted.

I see some Cyrillic writing, but I didn't take this in Ukraine. It's cool, though!

I see some Cyrillic writing, but I didn’t take this in Ukraine.

That’s right! These were the days before Do Not Call Lists. Bet you always wondered how telemarketers got your number when you had an unlisted number, didn’t you? Now you know. We were a tricky lot because we went down those lists and wrote down the ones that were skipped and called those, too! Yep, we were those people.

I can still remember the first part of the pitch. “Good evening! This is Laura. I’m calling from [insert cemetery name] to tell you that you have been chosen to receive a free burial space. Do you own your own burial spot?” Intense pause filled with anxiety for me because this is where the gentleman or lady of the house reacted to my ridiculous question. There were a few different answers that seemed to surface often.

1.  The person politely said, “No thank you,” with uncertainty and enough of a pause to allow me to jump in and continue with my spiel…which I don’t remember because this happened so few times that I did not bother to memorize it.

2.  The person slammed the phone down, possibly cursing at me.

Scary cemetery! No way I'd work in THIS one!

Scary cemetery! No way I’d work in THIS one!

3.  The person began a tirade that elicited such comments as, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir! I did not mean to interrupt your dinner. Have a good evening,” and ended with me slamming the phone down, possibly silently cursing him.

4.  The person said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Mr. Jones is not here. He died last week. We’re still cleaning out his house and haven’t had the phone disconnected.” This happened too often to be true.

I worked with two other women. One was about my age, and that was her real job. For me, it was just a summer job, but for her that was it. She spent every evening there, and that’s how she bought her Maybelline cosmetics and her hair products. She was nice enough, but she was quite a bit bigger than me and tougher than me, and I tried not to make her mad. She got mad at people a lot and told us all about it every night.

The other woman was a lot older than me, or at least I thought so. She was probably only like 29, but she had already been married and divorced. She had another job during the day and just worked there because after her divorce she had no money and no social life. I liked her, but I also felt a little sorry for her because…cemetery!

Sometimes weird things happened when I called people. Once I went through the whole thing and the person just stayed on the line. She didn’t hang up and was polite. The longer I talked, the more excited I got. Maybe this person would actually want a salesperson to visit her and deliver the deed. However, I began to feel ill at ease when I asked the person if she would like the representative to visit and silence ensued. Then the voice said tentatively, “Laurie?” I knew that voice! That voice belonged to none other than my own mother! I had called my own mother accidentally because she had just moved and her new number had not yet been listed. She was one of those people with unlisted numbers, and I didn’t recognize it!

Imagine lugging a bunch of these around in your car all summer! Fun times!

Imagine lugging a bunch of these around in your car all summer! Fun times!

The cemetery wasn’t my only job, though. I had a second job that summer. This was a long time ago, remember? At that time, everyone needed phone books because they didn’t have internet and smart phones to look up numbers for them. In addition to the cemetery job, I had been recruited by a woman I knew from church to deliver phone books out in the country around my house. She assumed that since I had grown up in that area of the countryside I knew the roads, their names, their numbers. The other people working for her had trouble delivering to those addresses, so she loaded my very old, very hard-to-drive car down with heavy phone books and handed me the list of impossible-to-find addresses. I had just learned to drive a stick shift car, and this old car took most of my strength to shift. I spent every morning wandering lost down country lanes frantically looking for unknown addresses. When I finally found a house, I would carry the phone book up to the door and leave it somewhere they’d find it. Most of the time, I never even saw anyone.

The weirdest thing that happened that summer occurred when the cemetery job and the phone book job intersected. I delivered phone books to homes along a route every morning one week, and somehow in the evenings got the same exact list of addresses and phone numbers to call! I wanted so desperately to tell the rude people I called, “Oh, hey! If you want your phone book, check your back door. I left it on the back step this morning when I delivered it to your house!”

I sometimes think about that job now. It feels like a dream. I never worked there again or even went there again after I quit at the end of the summer. I went back to college and every summer after that went to Ukraine to work. I never had to hunt another summer job, thank goodness, because I never really liked the cemetery all that much. I’m glad I did it, though. It makes for an interesting story!

Anybody else have weird jobs before? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

I Was the Perfect Mother

I love mom

Reassurance from a little artist.

I remember when I was a perfect mother. Man, those were good days! Days when I could go in a restaurant and smugly watch moms struggle to get their kids to eat. Days when I could walk down the mall and feel superior when I saw mothers try to cope with their children’s tantrums.  Too bad everything changed. I suddenly lost my mothering skills on the day that my first daughter entered the world.

Before my oldest’s birth, I remember talking to a coworker who had teenage children. I told her that I would stay home after the baby was born but might do freelance work or try to do something from home “after things went back to normal”. I so distinctly remember her laugh. Somewhere between incredulous and mocking. She said, “Things will never go back to normal.”

How hard could it be? I asked myself. I graduated from college with honors. I lived overseas and navigated a completely new country in a language I did not know at all at first. I lived on my own and learned to manage a home in a place that had an unreliable electricity and water supply and required that everything be made from scratch with food I sometimes walked a mile or more to buy and lug home. Children couldn’t be harder than that, right?

Wrong! How incredibly naive I was. Children have been waaaaaay harder than that. All of those things I did before I married and had children still contained one element that mothering does not and never will: the ability to live for myself. Sure, I said I lived for God, and I did to some extent. I was a missionary, after all. But I never learned self-sacrifice in the concrete, day-by-day, unavoidable way I have since having children.

I visited my former roommate in Ukraine a few years ago. She somehow looked almost exactly like she did when we lived in that apartment building behind us 15 years ago. How could that happen?!

Roommates, 15 years later. How is it that she looks the same?!

As a single woman, I had roommates. With each one, elements of my personality emerged. Some of those elements showed me areas that God wanted me to change. I worked on those, changed some things to make life with the roommates more pleasant. I thought I had it together. Then I got married, and before long I realized there were a lot more rough edges to my personality that I hadn’t yet smoothed down. The more into marriage we got, the more of those rough edges we found.

Then motherhood hit. We thought Hey, we’ve been married a couple of years. We’re ready to have a baby! Now I ask myself if anyone is ever ready to have a baby. There must be women out there who take motherhood in stride. It seems Facebook is full of them. They love all of the fingerpainting and chaos and mess, and when their children scream in public it’s just downright cute to them. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m one of them.

I realized that when my daughter was a few hours old. I was trying to learn to breastfeed her, not doing well, really, and I found myself irritated. This didn’t bode well. How could I be irritated with a baby who had only been breathing the air on this planet for a few hours? And that was just the beginning of the rest of my life.

This littlest one is so silly!

This littlest one is so silly!

For me, the story of raising children has been one of learning to give up myself and yet not wanting to surrender. I know, I know, we have to keep some things for ourselves and carve out our own hobbies (hence this blog and a lot of crocheted items I’ve produced over the years). However, it’s really not possible to live for myself now that I have children. The moment I sit down to rest, I’m called on for something. The clothes I love often disappear to reappear in my oldest girl’s closet. I haven’t cooked a meal that I really liked for years, but I sure have cooked a lot of meals. I’d like to say that I have happily turned over my selfishness and have become this great mom who sacrifices it all for her children, but I don’t think I have. I still struggle.

Once in a while, my kids complain about each other to me. They tell me things that basically amount to them being in the midst of the same kind of struggle with their siblings. Selfishness vs. surrender. I tell them that anytime a person is in an intense relationship with another person there will be that struggle. It’s part of being in a family, and it’s good for us. If we live in a social vacuum, we won’t feel that tension between getting our own way and giving someone else what they need or want. We will sail along, having everything the way we want it. But we will also forfeit the good things that come with practicing self-sacrifice: the ability to see and sometimes meet another person’s needs, the desire to please God by surrendering to him instead of seeking just our own pleasure, the love and warmth of belonging to a family or close relationship of some sort. The results are worth every bit of sacrifice.

airport family

Is it still called a selfie if you’re taking a picture of an entire family?

Maybe that’s where God is working. Can I tell myself that? That point where my desires and their needs intersect sparks a fire that can refine us all and make us more of what God wants us to become. Now the key for me involves realizing that and surrendering to it. Stopping the fighting and pushing against it and letting God intervene and guide.

How hard can that be, right?

Easier said than done.

Things I’d Never Say If I Didn’t Have Kids

You said WHAT?!

You said WHAT?!

There are just some things I never dreamed I’d say until I had kids. I mean, some words should never come out of a sane and culturally-appropriate person’s mouth (see #1). Some phrases sound completely ridiculous when spoken to anyone but a three-year-old, and when I hear myself saying them I just hope no one heard me…or wish someone were here to laugh with me about them if they did! So, in honor of the start of the school year, I present you with a list of some of the things I have said over the years to my children.

1. Do not put that toilet brush in your mouth again.

2. I prefer to use the bathroom without people in the room with me/talking to me/sitting on my lap.

3. Please stop picking a hole in my hand.

4. We all wear clothes when we leave the house.

5. Do not stand on top of a table next to a second-floor, open window while wearing socks.

6. When something is in the trash, it needs to stay there and should never be removed and placed in your mouth.

7. I can’t wait for school to start.

8. Which restaurants have kids eat free tonight?

9. Shorts must be longer than your underwear if you’re wearing them in public.

10. When your father is sleeping, do not jump on his stomach.

11. Let’s buy a hermit crab!

Don't ask me embarrassing questions like that ever again!

Don’t ask me embarrassing questions like that ever again!

12. Did you just poop?

13. Never trust a cat alone in a room with an un-caged guinea pig.

14. Say that again, but this time at least sound like you love him when you do.

15. I think a 12-passenger van is exactly what we need.

16. Eat one more bite. Do it because you love me!

17. You’re only allowed four squares of toilet paper in this house!

18.  You’ll understand this when you get bigger.

19. What would the Wiggles do to cheer you up if they were here (while in the ER getting stitches in a 2-year-old’s head–followed by our family singing a medley of the Wiggles’ greatest hits)?

20. Let’s use our vacation money to visit relatives every summer for the rest of our lives!

IMG_0329

Please do not eat while leaning over my computer.

I know there are more. I wish I’d written them all down! Doesn’t every parent say that at some point? I thought I’d remember all of the funny things. Now middle age has hit, and I can barely remember where I parked my car, much less things that happened ten years ago!

I’d love to hear some of the funny things you’ve said to kids or things your parents said to you. Chime in with your funny stories in the comment section!