Old Year Resolved

new-years.jpgI don’t like New Year’s resolutions. I think the only one I really remember keeping was the one I made when I was fourteen. I grew up in an environment that gave me the impression that all music that wasn’t specifically Christian music was wrong (You can imagine how George Michael’s I Want Your Sex song went over). My parents didn’t really teach me this, but it was a general impression among my Christian peers and the church. So at fourteen, I guess I thought I listened to too much straight-from-the-devil music on the car radio and resolved to change the station to the local Christian station and not move it from there the whole year. I kept that one, but only technically. I sometimes cheated by asking another family member to change it for me.

That’s the problem with New Year’s resolutions. They’re rules, and nobody likes rules, even when they made them up for themselves. At some point, we want to break the rules and find ways around those, and we either make up some good excuses for dropping the rules or we find ways to get around them.

New Year’s Theme

About two years ago, we decided we’d have a family theme for the year. Not a resolution but more of a motto to focus on. At the end of the year, I asked the kids how we’d done and what they wanted to choose for their new theme. You know what they said? “Theme? What theme? I’ve never heard of this theme idea before.” They responded thus despite the fact that they heard me cry out “KINDNESS!!! Remember the kindness!” repeatedly throughout the year. My goodness, they should have been hearing that theme in their dreams!

New Year’s Celebration

Another thing I’ve noticed about New Year’s resolutions is that they tend to focus on the things we’re doing wrong. “We’re not kind enough in this family. This year, we’re going to be kind!” Well, who wants a constant reminder of how they’ve failed or how they are failing every day?

So this year, I will continue my practice of no resolutions and instead just look back at the year and celebrate things we did well. I spend enough time beating myself up over being too fat or too lazy or spending too much time on social media or whatever. I do actually do some things right. Why not focus on those and keep them up? How about focusing more on how to increase those things in my life because I’m already doing them. How hard can it be to do just a little more of them?

Old Year Resolved

So this year, I’m thinking back about some things my family and I did well. And since it’s my blog, I’m going to brag a bit on them:

  • Time Together  I admit it. I lament the amount of time we devoted to technology this year. However, when I look back, I see that we also spent a lot of time together. We watched movies. We found out we all liked watching Agents of Shield (some of us more than others) and watched plenty of that. We did crafts, sometimes together and sometimes just in the same room. We devoted at least twenty minutes just about every evening to a technology-free, interruption-free dinner, and we had fun while we sat around the table talking about how school was or who made what in Minecraft.

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    Family and friends being kind to each other. My mom was mobbed by the children. Even one of the small group kids got in on the fun, which made it even sweeter!

  • Time with Friends I think we’re great at having family friends. This hasn’t always been something we’ve done well. In fact, for a lot of years we struggled with this, but now that the kids are older we have a lot of fun with our small group and with some of the students, all of whom have become more like family than friends to us.
  • Kindness  I know my kids don’t remember the theme, but I think it made a difference anyway. They still bicker sometimes, but I’ve seen them do some very kind things for one another. Now that I’m looking for it more, I see it more. I see them hug each other good night sometimes. I’ve heard them say “I love you” to each other before bed. Unprovoked. Yesterday Hannah couldn’t open one of her Christmas gifts, and before I could do anything she turned to Alex, who opened it without comment. Andrew and I haven’t always been the best examples of kindness, but this year I think we’ve made a concentrated effort on being kinder to one another. Maybe that trickles down to them. Whatever the case, I’m happy with it!

So here’s to a year of doing more of the good stuff, enjoying one another more, noticing and appreciating what we’re doing well! Happy 2016!

 

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I’m So Tired

“I’m so tired.” It seems I hear that or say that a hundred times a day. The last few weeks have been so crazy that even my kids are saying it. When you can zap the energy of a fourth grader, you know you’re too busy! Here’s some of the stuff we’ve been doing this month:

  • At least eight Christmas band/choir concerts in the last two weeks. That’s seven too many, in my opinion.
  • A work Christmas party that involved way too much worry for the amount of involvement I had in it.
  • Making a gift for said Christmas party.
  • Another work Christmas party that required wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and hoping it wasn’t ugly enough to be chosen for the dance off that determined the winner of the ugly sweater contest.

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    Alex, on the far right, did not participate in the contest. Too cool for an ugly sweater.

  • Hosting three students after the pipes went cray cray and flooded the college (see this).
  • Preparing for and implementing registration for the spring semester 130 students. Sounds easy. It isn’t.
  • Grading a million papers, giving a million tests, and writing a million syllabi–that’s Andrew’s stuff, but it affects us all.
  • Managing life while Andrew was in California last week.
  • Nursing a child with strep throat, two with serious colds, and taking them all to at least seven doctor appointments of various types.
  • Christmas shopping.
  • Surprise physicals for life insurance policies. At work. I mean, technically they weren’t surprises, but since I forgot about them, they were.
  • All the regular piano lessons, gymnastics classes, early band practices as usual.
  • Supervising class evaluations in all of the classes at work.
  • Three, half days of training on the horrible and difficult-to-understand-and-use computer system at work, after which I decided that I should definitely be given at least an associate’s degree in computer programming. Hey, I work at a college. My boss should be able to arrange something, I think!
  • Dealing with days that have gotten so short and cloudy that it seems we are living in the Far North. I would not do well in Alaska in winter.

There are more, I’m sure. I’m just happy that Christmas break is upon us, the kids get to sleep and rest more, and all of the band programs are DONE for now.

The Holiday Rush

It's the requisite holiday concert band picture. I barely recognize my own boy in that sea of blue and khaki!

It’s the requisite holiday concert band picture. I barely recognize my own drummer boy in that sea of blue and khaki!

It happens every year about this time. Between the end-of-the-semester crazy time at work and Christmas preparations, we have all sorts of school programs, band concerts, piano recitals and now, since we have teenagers, finals to worry about. Add to that list cold weather and ever-increasing darkness as the winter solstice creeps closer and closer and the fact that, for whatever reason, in the winter I like to hunker down with a blanket and a knitting project and binge on Netflix until the wee hours of the morning. It’s a recipe for disaster. I sometimes find myself in the midst of a sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled afternoon scurrying around to try and get as much done as possible at work before going home to get as much done as possible before going to bed. 

Not only do I feel this, but I’ve managed to pass it on to the next generation. My daughter sometimes comes to me at almost 14 years old and laments that she’s tired and doesn’t have time to study amidst all the band practices and concerts of the season and conflicting advice wells up in me. Part of me wants to tell her to let up and give herself a break. Take some time off. Don’t put too much stock in those finals because it is, after all, just junior high, for crying out loud! Another part of me says no way. That’s when she learns how to juggle so much and be productive in a safe environment. I mean, if she tries too much and fails at some of it, she’s just in 8th grade. That failure affects nothing in her future but may teach her a valuable lesson. Besides, she’s got the energy and enthusiasm of youth on her side.

I look around and see that we are not alone in this. In fact, I’m surrounded by a lot of college people who are staying up later and working harder than I am, and I realize I’ve actually learned some things about holiday time management that I didn’t know at their age.

So which one is right? Isn’t that the question all firstborns like my daughter and me struggle with at some point? The longer I live, the more I think it’s both. Let up and lean in. Don’t do too much, but do all you can. And how in the world is that even possible?

  1. Prioritize. Yeah, I know. That’s what they all say. But seriously, I ask myself this all the time: What will I wish I’d done now when I look back at this time in 20 years? Work harder to do some job with excellence or take time off to play with the kids? Since I stumbled upon this technique of imagining my future self talking to my present self, I have used it relentlessly in decision-making, and I have been amazed at how helpful it has been in helping me focus on what’s really important. It also leads me to the next point.
  2. Pay attention to now. That may sound contradictory to saying look at the future and work toward it, but it’s not. If you’re like me, it can be easy to get too caught up in memories of the past or fears of the future. I can’t do much about past events, but if I’m worried about the future I can affect that by what I do right now. I just realized this morning that our oldest daughter has only five Christmases left before she goes off to college. That’s five, people! The Christmases and birthdays as a solid family unit don’t stretch out endlessly before us anymore. They’re limited. How do I make those count? Not by making the perfect gingerbread house or buying the best present ever. By being present with her right now. I want to decide what I think is important for my kids’ futures and do the things in the present moment that work us toward that goal. That’s not just true for people with kids. We can do that in all areas of our lives. What do you want to remember about this time of your life? Work to be present for it.
  3.  Lower expectations. In school I used to want to have an A in every class. Not just an A, but the highest A. Then I realized that if I implemented suggestions 1 and 2 above I would not get the highest A. I began to lower my expectations because there are more important things to do than study, and studying all the time will not help me be present any more than studying less. If I want a perfect house, I have to sacrifice more important things (like my sanity) to get that. If good enough is really good enough, I have more time and energy to devote to the things I feel are higher priorities.

    Yes, that is indeed my youngest wearing a turkey headband. I’m lowering expectations, remember?

  4. Give up control. This is a big one. I used to be pretty type A. I wanted a schedule. I wanted things to go according to that schedule. I thought if I could list it and plan it I would be happier. But then I moved overseas. There nothing happened the way I thought it should, and every day became an exercise in accepting what I don’t understand. I remember standing at a bus stop and seeing a trolleybus roll up. It had its destination written on a card at the front, but it was in a language and an alphabet I didn’t know at all. I just said to myself “what the heck?” and got on, not knowing where it was going or if I’d get where I needed to be. Guess what. It went somewhere. With me on it. I don’t even remember if it went where I wanted to go or not, but I remember that moment because it was a moment of surrendering control. I’m still alive, so it must’ve worked out ok, right?

So now you’ve heard my ideas for getting thru the holidays. What are yours?

What I Learned on a Big Long Road Trip

Taking off work and pulling the kids out of school for a week and a half to go on a cross-country road trip sounds like an adventure, but about nine days into it you realize a few things. 

  1. Those things about your family members that you find slightly annoying at home where you can slip off into the other room when they happen become unavoidably difficult when you are stuck with them for days in a car. Does he smack his lips when he eats or mispronounce the word “Massachusetts” every single time he says it? You’ll be planning a Boston Tea Party by the end of the voyage!
  2. Trying to avoid dropping a chunk of lettuce or an avalanche of black olives on your lap when attempting to enjoy a Subway sandwich while hurtling down I 80 at breakneck speeds will only result in mayo all over your already disgusting travel clothes. 
  3. The youngest will always run out of patience before the others. The point at which this happens is inversely related to the amount of patience you have remaining.   
  4. Someone will inevitably see a stuffed animal/pocket knife/best snack in the world that he or she will choose not to buy at a truck stop and then will lament this choice for at least the rest of the trip.
  5. Fast food, when eaten at every meal for ten days, does bad things to every family member’s stomach. 
  6. A sack full of bananas brought in an attempt to counteract the effects of the fast food will go uneaten and become black and bruised and smelly just a few short hours into the trip. 
  7. The child complaining most about a tummy ache will be the first to demand a snack.  
  8. The most important item, whatever that may be, will be left in the trunk in a bag underneath all other bags and will be needed within 40 min of leaving home. The most important item changes from day to day so it is impossible to predict what that may be and keep it unpacked. 
  9. No matter how exhausted you feel, you will not be able to fall asleep. Unless you’re driving. Then you’ll struggle not to nod off every few minutes. 
  10. When taking turns driving, the driver will decide to stop for a potty break within ten minutes of you finally, finally falling asleep.   
  11. The road construction signs you see for miles in the middle of nowhere will lead you to absolutely no actual road construction but a significant amount of slow traffic.  
  12. When you finally arrive home from this epic journey, you will face a mountain of dirty laundry, a schedule that didn’t pause just because you’re tired from your “vacation,” and a full work week ahead. 
  13. No matter how carefully you budget, you will spend more than you expected you would. 
  14. Within a day of departing, you will find it hard to remember where you actually live, especially if you have moved within the last few years. You may also lose track of info you once thought was firmly ingrained in your mind. Things like what projects you’re working on at work or your current address. You will, however, memorize the complete menu at Arby’s. 
  15. Places like The World’s Largest Truck Stop and the Danish windmill museum become intensely fascinating after hours of monotonous Midwestern landscape.   
  16. You’ll meet some surprisingly nice people in places you never thought you’d meet nice people. Places like a gas station in Connecticut, a parking lot in Illinois and a pastel-colored tent at a festival in Salem, Massachusetts.   
  17. You’ll be so tired of wearing basically the same pair of jeans that you contemplate throwing them alway instead of washing them. 

As I write this, we are on the last leg of a multi-legged trip. We’re within 3 1/2 hours from home, and I am dreaming of driving that whole distance without stopping and without anyone arguing. 

I can’t complain, though. We’ve driven about 60-65 hours in the last ten days and there have been relatively few difficulties. We’ve visited all of the grandparents, talked to more friends than I can count at ICOM (the missionary convention) in Richmond, Virginia, told everyone there how great Nebraska Christian College is and researched Andrew’s book on pagan religions by celebrating Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts!  

 
Right now the kids are all reading quietly except for Emma. She’s sitting in her seat with a blanket over her head, probably in an effort to block out the rest of the world. I don’t know how she can stand it, but I’m thinking of trying it out myself!

For the Love of Minecraft

The concentration. They didn't even see me there taking the picture.

The concentration! They didn’t even see me there taking the picture.

I’m sitting on my couch. In the next room, my children have gathered around the dining room table. Their lively conversation, the kindest they’ve had in days, revolves around running for their lives from killer mushroom soup and a zombie that will kill them with one hit. Whatever that means. They’re playing Minecraft, rejoicing over the murder of a zombie with a Thor axe.

Most of the time, these three walk a fine line between beating the tar out of one another and simply ignoring each other’s existence. Once in a while, they start playing something that gets them all immediately involved 100%, and then this beautiful situation occurs. Over the years, different games have intrigued them. Once I woke up on a Saturday morning to the sound of three kids playing in the other room. I went in to see them all embroiled in a huge light saber fight. The girls each held a baby doll on a hip, deftly wielding a saber with the free hand. When I asked what they were doing, Hannah answered, “Playing Star Wars!” The babies were the twins, Luke and Lea.

Yep, they even play it at the library!

Yep, they even play it at the library!

A couple of years ago, Minecraft entered the scene. They became immersed in a blocky world of endermen and zombies, and they all became very good at building creative structures with blocks. Hannah even built an elaborate church, a throwback to when my sister and I played worship service in the garage or school in the dining room. Since then, they have played Minecraft with friends from church, students at the college, and one of the small group guys spent an afternoon playing it with them, despite his advanced age (20 something!).

I’ve heard criticism galore about how too much computer time hurts kids, and I’m sure that’s true. However, this game and others like it have given my children much more positive interaction than anything I’ve seen them do. Ever. They have more to talk about and a language that only they understand. They work together in their Minecraft world. Tonight my daughter begged my son to play, saying that he could best save her and protect her there, so they even have a chance to rely on one another and care for one another in their virtual world.

The heavenly day when they received their very own laptops--a combined Christmas gift from grandparents and parents and worth every penny!

The heavenly day when they received their very own laptops–a combined Christmas gift from grandparents and parents and worth every penny!

Not only do they play the game together, but they watch YouTube videos of other people playing it. Today at lunch, one of them started laughing about something one of them saw on a YouTube video, and I swear it sounded like they were talking about a friend. When I realized they were all laughing about someone they knew from a vlog, I just shook my head. They’re already in a world I’ll never care about.

Hearing them talk to each other, laugh at things that happen online, and cheer each other on as they play makes me happy. These are the days I waited for, the days I longed for when they were little and covered in a mixture of snot and chocolate milk and unidentifiable goop from breakfast. These days, I have uninterrupted periods of time when they’re happy and fulfilled without me, when I can sit on a couch and write a blog post or take a shower without the guilt of a baby crying in her crib in the back of my mind. They’re growing up!

And not only are they growing up, but they’re growing up great. I know they’re my kids, but I think they’re pretty wonderful. Today I was the last of the family to leave Taco Bell and went out the door behind a group of people using wheelchairs. I thought my kids were all in the car, but as I walked out the door I noticed that the person behind it was my youngest, Emma. She had held the door for a long line of wheelchairs. I saw one of the caretakers accompanying the people smile one of those oh-my-what-a-lovely-little-girl smiles and I just felt so proud of her. She is a lovely little girl.

So here’s to enjoying these days when they’re all home and all having fun together. Days when they still just have each other, when they build memories they’ll take with them when they go their separate ways and find other people to share their lives. Here’s hoping that they remember these days as well or better than they remember the days when Mommy lost her mind and yelled about the car door that wouldn’t close or the day when everyone sat in silence during dinner because they got reprimanded for talking mean to one another.

For now, I’ll let them conquer the Pumpkin King with TNT and enjoy listening to their animated conversation…even if I don’t understand half of it!

Random Thoughts

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Just a few random thoughts at the end of the week:

  1. New beginnings are exciting! School started this week. We have two junior high family members now, and the youngest child is sweetly still in fourth grade. On Tuesday, everyone got dressed in their finest clothes, straightened and spiked hair, and loaded their backpacks. As much as I love sleeping in a little in the summer and having a more relaxed schedule, I also like the routine and predictability of school.
  2. New beginnings are stressful! One boy in our family has gone to bed at 7 or so several times this week. People have had blow ups over tiny, dumb things, and by people have I mean I have. I’m not even in school, and I feel stressed out by it!
  3. Cicadas make way more noise than I’m comfortable with. I’m sitting on the deck in the back yard, and I can hardly think because of those things.
  4. The weather must follow the school calendar. On the very day that school started, the temperature went from don’t-even-look-outside-for-fear-of-radiation-burns to get-back-in-here-and-get-a-jacket. How does it know?!
  5. The feel of the world changes in fall. How strange is that? I was in the car with Alex yesterday around 7 pm and said, “Man! It even looks different now that school started.” The light is different–golden or something. The clouds and sky looked so crisp. How is it that I forget this during other seasons and only remember it when it hits again?
  6. I’m really tired. Overloaded with new routine, getting kids out in the morning and being home on time, an influx of new students around me all day, many of them needing something from my office, and less sleep than normal come together to make Tired Laura.
  7. I guess I break things when I’m tired nowadays. I mean, this hasn’t been a thing for me in the past, but I think I’ve taken up a new hobby of breaking pottery. Yesterday I dropped my fave coffee mug in the morning and broke the handle off, and last night I dropped a coffee mug out of the cabinet. It fell onto a plate on the counter below, and both of them broke.

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My poor Willa Cather mug

Tired Laura probably should end this overgrown Facebook status-y blog post and go make some dinner. Or, you know, break some stuff.

Family Away From Family

“God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalms 68:6)us

I left home at eighteen when I moved to Tennessee for college. After graduation, I headed straight to Ukraine to teach for five years, and after that, Cincinnati. Now we’re living in Nebraska, so I’m nowhere close to my home state of Indiana. I can’t say I’ve actually missed it much. Not that Indiana’s not a great place because I liked it fine enough. I’ve just noticed a phenomenon that occurs in each place where I live. Even though we left behind our families long ago, we have seen met people who became like family to us in every location.

In Matthew 19:29 Jesus says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sister or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much…” This has definitely proven true for us, a fact that I see more and more in our relatively new home state of Nebraska.

The main campus of our church, Calvary Christian Church

The main campus of our church, Calvary Christian Church

When we moved here, we only knew a few people here, and we knew them just barely. We began attending a huge church. We loved the music and the professional feel of the worship services, and we loved the preaching as well. However, it quickly became clear how difficult it could be to make friends in a church of 1,700. We hardly saw the same people twice in a row, and those we did see already had lives and friends and plenty of stuff going on to keep them from taking on newcomers. That’s not to say they weren’t welcoming. It was actually at one of the meetings for new people that the church set up that we met our new “family.”

Andrew went to the meeting because I stayed home with the kids. He came home uncharacteristically excited about some new people he met (he’s an introvert–see the previous post about how he feels at parties and the like!). He invited them to our house, and somehow we decided to start a new small group together. I’m not sure how this all happened because we have traditionally balked some at such endeavors, us being introverts and needing our space and all, but the timing was right for everyone. They had just moved to this area and needed friends as well. We all have the unique perspective of outsiders looking at the culture of the region from a newcomer’s viewpoint, so we could all talk freely about our experiences here without worrying about stepping on a native’s feet.

Since that day, we have done so much fun stuff together. I mean, seriously, a lot of stuff. Stuff people sometimes do with family. Here are some pictures of us all together, doing fun stuff:

Hayride at the pumpkin patch

Hayride at the pumpkin patch

 

And then we had a pumpkin carving party on our back porch.

And then we had a pumpkin carving party on our back porch.

 

 

It was fun!

It was fun!

We all dressed up for Halloween.

We all dressed up for Halloween.

We've celebrated quite a few birthdays together...

We’ve celebrated quite a few birthdays together…

 

Two Thanksgivings and Christmases

Two Thanksgivings and Christmases, some even with their extended families.

 

 

 

 

We've eaten a LOT of food together.

We’ve eaten a LOT of food together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got to spend a fantastic day at the air show with up front "seats" since we have connections in the Air Force!

We got to spend a fantastic day at the air show with up front “seats” since we have connections in the Air Force! (Tip: Never wear jeans to the air show in the middle of a Nebraska summer, and if you do, never fall asleep on a blanket while watching it. A lot of so-called “friends” will take your picture and text it to you and to each other!)

The value of our new family away from family became clearer this Christmas break. Most of the group has been out of town because the guys are all in the Air Force and have been deployed. Their wives have been scattered all over visiting family while they’re gone, so we were left with just our family and two of the guys who couldn’t get enough time off to travel. We invited them over to spend the night on Christmas eve. They got up with us and watched the kids open presents, ate breakfast, and lounged around the house with us all day, just like part of the family. And guess what! It was totally comfortable and fun! I sometimes feel sorry for my kids not growing up around aunts and uncles and cousins, but I see in this family away from family that God has provided more aunts and uncles for them, and he even gave them a cute little cousin!

Christmas morning, 2014

Christmas morning, 2014

I’ve learned a lot from this group:

  1. Weird things happen when you’re in your twenties. Like flat tires, leaving curling irons on when you go to work, and getting locked out of your house, sometimes all in the same week. I remember these kind of things happening to me and having to deal with them on a regular basis, and now I see them happening to my small group friends.
  2. When we leave things behind, we gain new things. Like aunts and uncles for our kids. It’s hard to say good-bye, but when we said good-bye to our last home and the friends there, we opened the door to a new group of friends who have become so important to us.
  3. Military families face a lot of special issues. They sacrifice a lot, and it’s not just the person in the military who sacrifices. Their wives Hannah and meand children give up just as much, if not more in some ways.
  4. In being friends with a group of younger adults, we get the unique experience of doing a trial run for when our own children are their age. We can see the relationships with in laws from the safely removed distance of not being involved and learn things to do and not to do.
  5. I’m not as young as I used to be. When we first met them, I thought of us as all being the same age, and then one of their parents thanked us for being such good examples and being a home away from home for their children. Then the oldest one in the group told us that his mother is the same age as me, and I almost died of shock!

    She is adorable in every picture!

    She is adorable in every picture!

  6. Our children have grown up friends who can relate to them in a different way than we do and can provide guidance from different perspectives. In fact, the members of our small group are closer in age to our children than they are to us. I cannot even begin to tell how valuable this is to me as a parent. These people are such great examples to our children, too. How did we get so blessed with such a good group of mentors to our children?!

So here’s to leaving home and stepping away, to letting God provide the relationships we need. Here’s to taking God at his word and trusting that he will give us the family we need when we need it!

How an Introvert Survives a Party

My name is Laura, and I’m an introvert.

You may think because I talk a lot that I’m an extrovert, but that just means I’m an introvert in recovery. Or something. I admit that despite my introvert qualities I like being with people. I search them out and tell them stories, and some people might just run the other way when they see me coming, especially after I drink a cup of coffee because caffeine makes me extra talkative.

I think, though, that I like being with people on my own terms. I like them in small groups. I like them when I approach them. I like them when I’m ready for them. I like them when I know them. I like them when they like me.

This weekend, I found myself in a situation that put me waaay outside of my introvert bubble. My youngest daughter, probably not an introvert herself and probably the only extrovert in our family, got invited to a Christmas open house at her friend’s grandma’s house. I remembered that this friend of hers invited her last year, too, and she could not go for some forgotten reason. This time I told her she could go before I actually inspected the invitation closely. Her friend is moving far away soon, and she is pretty sad about that, so how could I tell her no?

After I read the invite Saturday afternoon, I remembered why I told her she couldn’t go last year. It said “All children under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult who stays with them.”  What?! When I saw that, I knew it must be me who went. While I am an introvert on the introvert/extrovert chart, I’m also much closer to extroversion than my husband, who falls solidly in the very introverted category. In our family, that means that if there’s a social gathering that requires only one of us to go, I’m probably the one, and I’m OK with that most of the time.

This time I headed to the house with not a little bit of trepidation. Apparently this family holds a huge Christmas party every year, and all of the family members invite friends. That includes Grandma and Grandpa, who actually organize the thing, Mom and Dad, and all four kids, so there are a lot of people there. We arrived at the house. I walked in, and my daughter disappeared upstairs with her friend. I looked around. I knew no one. I mean not one person looked even remotely familiar. An older and very friendly lady hugged me and said how happy she was that I could come, and I had no idea who she was or who she thought I was for that matter!

I went straight to the bathroom and stayed there while I adjusted to the idea that I was about to be surrounded by strangers and expected to party without knowing anyone, but a person can only stay in the bathroom for so long when the house is chock full of people. I left the bathroom and tried to look nonchalant while furtively scanning the rooms for someone who looked familiar and might be the boy’s mom, whom I’d only met once or so. I feared that when I saw her she would remember me and I wouldn’t remember her, and how embarrassing would that be?

In the process, I ended up finding another woman with a face that registered the full range of confusion, alarm and false cheer that mine probably did. I made my way toward her, and, careful not to scare her off, I introduced myself. We chatted for a moment, and I could tell she was holding onto me as much as I was holding onto her, so we had each other. After a while of hiding in a corner, talking to her, and observing the party together with her, I noticed that, while some of the men did have on suits, my jeans fit in with many of the other people. I noticed that the woman/lifesaver I was talking to and I weren’t the only ones who did not know anyone. I also noticed that quite a few people had gravitated toward the front room, were singing 60’s and 70’s songs and appeared to be antique hippies, and for some reason that disarmed me a little. I guess I figured if the hippies were having fun, I could too. In addition to that, I noticed that there was one group who felt much more intimidated by the crowd and even found their lives in danger in such a house full of people. The homeowners had these tiny chihuahuas who scurried around, nervously shivering in their little Christmas coats, dodging people’s feet. I tell you, if all of them are still alive today, I’m surprised, since I was sure all evening that they would either be smashed by the crowd, fallen on by an unsteady toddler, or just die of sheer terror.

Since I know a lot of introverts, I bet a bunch of the people reading this understand completely where I’m coming from. Here are some tips for introverts who want to enjoy the party scene:

  1. Take something to distract yourself. If you’re messing with your phone, you’ve got a reason to be solitary. If you’re trapped by someone you prefer not to be trapped by, you’ve got an out. You can make the excuse that someone is texting/calling you, and you don’t even have to worry that the other person will notice that the phone didn’t ring or vibrate since it’s so ridiculously loud in that room.
  2. Take a baby or a toddler with you. I can’t believe that I’m saying this after my angst at having had to leave many a social gathering because one or more of my children had a meltdown or a nap or a blowout, but if you really don’t want to be there or don’t want to socialize, a tiny human will give you a reason not to interact with adults. Plus they will inevitably cry, and you will leave. For probably the first time ever, I envied the woman chasing a toddler around the house at that party.
  3. Find someone else uncomfortable and team up. Misery loves company, and finding someone who doesn’t know anyone or feels left out can help.
  4. Eat. Or drink. Find the food and eat it. This one is self-explanatory.
  5. Help the hostess. Hey, I wish I had thought of this Saturday! If you’re helping, you forget that you’re a dork without a friend in the world and stop feeling like you’re just bouncing around helplessly.
  6. Play with (or in this case protect) the dog. This will bring you around other people who also like dogs and then you’ll have allies.
  7. Watch tv. I was about to get into football big time because there was a tv playing some game. I mean, I think it was football. There were guys and a ball on a field.
  8. Snoop around. Hey, why not? They’re all partying in the kitchen and dining room. It’s the perfect time to look around the rest of their house. (I promise I did not do this–except the bathroom. Remember, I spent quite a bit of time in there at first. Interestingly enough, there was a vacuum cleaner in the bathtub!)
  9. Just stand there. How bad can it be just to stand there and watch everyone? If you smile a little, you look pleasant enough. I bet you can find out lots of stuff just by watching and listening to the people around you.
  10. Make it a game to talk to as many people as possible. Wait. Games are supposed to be fun, and that doesn’t sound fun whatsoever. Forget that one!

I survived Saturday night and the work party on the previous night and the work friend’s open house on the next night, and guess what! I actually enjoyed all of the parties. I am also happy that I got most of the Christmas partying done in just one weekend. If you’re an introvert faced with a slew of Christmas parties, buckle on your elf shoes and dive in. But remember my ten suggestions in case you feel overwhelmed at the open house!

The Best Way to Travel with Kids

 

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

I’ve been a mom for almost thirteen years. All of that time, we’ve lived far away from family. That means that most “vacations” have been trips to the grandparents’ houses and have involved driving long distances with very small and very squirrely people. We’ve tried all kinds of methods to get from point A to point B without a murder/suicide pact, but I discovered the best one yet last week: travel with coworkers.

It sounds crazy, I know. In fact, before we left for our 14-hour road trip to ICOM (International Conference on Missions) in Columbus, Ohio, I dreaded the idea of packing my husband, my three children and myself into a mini van with my boss and another professor from the college where we work. I imagined hours of monotony infused with severe whining and me maybe doing something horrible like yelling at the kids while simultaneously trying to hold an adult conversation with a Ph.D.

My boy is the cutest boy.

My boy is the cutest boy.

As it turned out, though, I was very wrong about the whole thing. In fact, I hadn’t even considered the idea that the presence of outsiders might make our family nicer to each other. My children, being preteens and old enough to entertain themselves for longer stretches than 3.2 seconds, brought books, notebooks, homework (!), DS games, and they actually kept themselves busy about 70% of the time.

Of course, kids their ages are decent at being nice to each other, but sometimes they get tired and feel cramped and bored. When that happened on this trip, the children did something wonderful. Instead of yelling at each other and pushing each other around, they calmly (most of the time) expressed themselves and guess what! Having two extra adults in the vehicle proved wonderfully handy. Instead of Andrew and me shouldering the entire burden for entertaining and refereeing, whenever the boredom started setting in, one of the other grown-ups came up with something interesting for them to talk about or listen to or do. Imagine that! We brought a village in the van with us, and they helped us raise our kids for a few days.

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving...

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving…

One of the professors regaled us all with stories from his doctoral dissertation in literature, and that proved interesting and informative.  During the long ride home, in what felt like the middle of the dark night but really was only about 6 pm, the other one broke out in a narrative poem/story he recited from memory. Very impressive, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss.

The best parts, though, were not related entirely to the children’s behavior. I watched us all together and I realized a few things.

1.  I enjoyed seeing my coworkers in a different and unusual setting. I see them at work, interacting with students and other faculty and staff, but I never see them on a ridiculously long road trip with children. They both have grandchildren of their own, though, and I got to see the grandfather come out in them. I like them better now, having seen how gently they treated my children. Like I said above, my children don’t get to see family very often, and this trip reiterated for me how God provides families for us when he leads us far from our biological families.

2.  Children spend more time with their parents than anyone, and I think that sometimes can get oppressive. They need other people’s input in their lives. Seeing other adults, listening to them talk, hearing the way they spoke to each other and to their own children on the phone during the trip gave my kids a different perspective, little glimpses of other ways to view the world. Not to mention that they listened to us converse about things other than what was for dinner and whether the cats and dogs will ever get along in our house. They got to hear about theology and literature and ministry and all sorts of important things that I know very little about and rarely discuss with them.

3.  My own behavior improved drastically on this trip because nothing will make you nicer and more patient with your children than having your boss sit there and listen to you talk to them. I realized how much my attitude affects the children’s behavior. The old saying holds some truth: “If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” That can go for Dad, as well, of course. One person can bring down a carload, and one person can build up a carload as well. I need to remember that in everyday life!

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year's ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year’s ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

So now that we have made it home and have managed not to do anything horribly embarrassing, we can be thankful for the experience. I think my kids will remember the time they travelled with the faculty! Now if we can just convince them to go with us on our next family vacation…!

A Big Waste of Time

Yesterday morning I listened to a sermon by a veteran preacher. In it, he encouraged the audience to focus on what is important in life and not to settle for mediocrity.

“I can’t help but think of how many great things I may have missed because I was preoccupied with lesser things.”

That struck home with me because even at that very moment, when I sat in a room listening to an eloquent speaker open up truths from the Word of God, I also thought about what texts I might have gotten during the praise time or what someone else around me might have been tweeting about the sermon. My mind wandered to what I’d eat for lunch and what my kids were doing at school. I kept bringing my train of thought back to the sermon, back to what he was saying because I didn’t want to lose sight of the diamonds in life while focusing on the gravel at my feet.

imagesSo I left thinking I’ll do it! I’ll put away my cell phone when my kids are around. I’ll engage with people and really listen. I’ll care about things that God cares about and put the rest in perspective. Yep! That’s what I’ll do starting now! As it turns out, that is much easier to think than to do.

After a long day at work and a busy night caring for sick kids, making dinner, doing housework, I sat down in the quiet house where everyone slept except me. I wanted to write a little, but instead I did The Bad Thing.

I looked at Facebook.

I’m not going to rant against Facebook because I happen to love Facebook. However, I’m not dumb enough to think that Facebook doesn’t steal my life away, one status at a time. This time was no exception. I started looking at a thread on a Facebook crochet group I like. One of the group’s members started writing all kinds of stuff on there that I would consider bitter, hateful, and downright mean. She decided that one of the other members was trying to con innocent people also in the group, and she took it upon herself to start a harsh and condemning thread about that other member. Publicly.

I watched the thread fill up with people spewing hateful things about this person that they did not even know, and I just felt disgusted. So I chimed in and reminded people to mind their words and pay attention to how they treated one another.

Big mistake. They turned on me. The crocheters became violent, hook-weilding gladiators, intent on ridding the world of all that is good and decent under the guise of exposing a “con artist” and self-righteously criticizing those who reminded them of civility. I watched it unfold in disbelief, made a few comments, and then attempted to extract myself from the conversation. I looked at the clock and saw that the lesser things had stolen quite a bit time from the great things.

Isn’t this how it goes, though? We make a decision to change something, to do something better than we’ve been doing it, and before we know it, we’re back doing the same old thing we’ve always done. Just now, I sat down to type while the kids played quietly and independently in the other room, but as soon as I got a good start, one after the other called for me, asked for help, for lunch, for paint, for exacto knives (?!). I, writing about taking time for what’s important, told them that I was busy and couldn’t they do some of this on their own (except for the exacto knives!). I put off the great, the relationship with my kids, to focus on the lesser, my beautiful blog.

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So here’s what I’m going to do to make sure I focus on some of the really important things this week. I consulted my kids for advice on this, since they are the ones who often get put off when I’m working on something less important. Here are their suggestions:

1.   “Spend more time thinking” (Emma, 8 years old). Think about God and what he wants me to do instead of what I want to do. Interesting that this was the immediate response since this is also what a lot of experts suggest for relaxation. Stop and think. Spend time meditating/praying/thinking. Hannah (12 years old) added, “Analyze the things you think are important and compare that with what you know God thinks is important.”

2.   “Not playing on your phone a whole bunch” (Emma). I was hoping that one wouldn’t come up. I mean, I hoped maybe no one noticed that they saw the top of my head more than my eyes since I look down on my phone a lot while we’re together. I decided to move the Facebook app on my phone so that I don’t see it and its demanding notifications every time I pick up my phone. Less of a reminder, less of a temptation…right?

3.   “Use the extra time to do things you say you don’t have time for when you’re using time doing unimportant things” (Alex, 11 years old). In other words, stop saying I don’t have time to read or crochet because I do. Maybe when I see all of the fun things I get to do when I’m not checking my work email or texting someone who can probably wait an hour or so to hear from me, I’ll decide the sacrifice is worth it.

Now that I’ve publicly committed myself to them, you can hold me to them. But, oh my goodness, be nice to me about them! No more Facebook crazy!