Look for Something Good

Today I started feeling like everyone’s life is a mess. Do you ever do that? Just start thinking about people you know and realize that just about everyone’s got something big they’re facing. And by “big” I mean potentially life-altering: relationship problems that just don’t end, debilitating depression, gender identity issues. This afternoon I started thinking about these things and about how life is more often than not pretty complicated and messy, and I told my friend, “I just want to go back to the time when everybody’s lives were happy and OK.” I can’t do that because, of course, that time doesn’t really exist. We just think it does when we’re young and we haven’t lived long enough to have enough people open up and share their secrets with us, when we don’t realize that everybody’s struggling in some way with something.

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One of the fond memories: vacation with the family in the mountains.

I was thinking about that this evening when I saw a Facebook post asking people to share their fondest memories. I shut my eyes and started thinking what I’d write if I were going to share. I have to admit, it took a while to get past the obligatory days: my-kids-were-born and wedding day, but as I pondered it I realized I have an awful lot of fond memories.

  • sliding (on purpose) on a patch of ice on the sidewalk in Kharkov, Ukraine only to run into Andrew at the end and knock him down
  • walking everywhere around Simferopol and Kharkov with Andrew while we were dating, not feeling tired because I was just so happy to be with him
  • cleaning my first apartment on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Kherson while listening to 80’s music on a little red tape player
  • walking Betsy, the best dog in the world, in the cold every morning and snuggling under the covers with her at night
  • sitting at the island in our kitchen as a child and talking to my mom as she cooked dinner
  • lying in bed as a little girl, watching the “digital” clock dial turn every minute
  • reading for hours every day during Christmas break when I was in junior high
  • fighting with my sister over which direction the fan would point in high school
  • making a video with my Ukrainian friends to give to the missionaries before they moved back to the US
  • teaching my dad to use his iPad and staying up late making funny videos on it
  • spending time with my great-grandma, my grandma, and her sisters, and listening to them as they sat outside, breaking beans and laughing together and thinking about how much alike they looked and sounded
  • eating rice pudding in NYC with my friend and just being happy to be together
  • Andrew making a surprise visit to see me in Simferopol, a 12-hour train ride from his home in Kharkov, while we were dating
  • playing Michael Jackson music and dancing with Andrew and the kids after supper every night when the children were little
  • making Christmas cookies with my grandparents and my cousins and standing still while my grandpa vacuumed the flour off our clothes
  • watching Oprah and praying for her with my friends in Bible college
  • putting up a tiny Christmas tree in my first apartment and accidentally getting myself twisted up in the lights
  • the best vacation ever in Wisconsin Dells when I was about nine and my parents saying yes to everything we wanted to do
  • teaching my kids to crochet
  • some really fun parties with missionaries in Simferopol
  • walking part of the Oregon Trail with my kids and Andrew
  • meeting some writing goals I thought I wouldn’t meet
  • going to work and seeing a surprise gift waiting at my door
  • meeting my best friend (I’ll let you all think it was you–but I actually remember the moment I met a lot of you, and all of those moments were pretty great)
  • my mom teaching me to write and later to type
  • riding the scariest amusement park ride I’ve ever ridden with my ten-year-old and being more scared that my phone was going to fall out of my pocket than I was that I’d die in the ride
  • lunch dates with my American friend in Simferopol–especially the one where she slipped on a mossy sidewalk and fell in a puddle, getting green moss all over herself
  • meeting a friend to talk about writing and not talking much about writing but a lot about everything else
  • eating chips and drinking Coke and talking about life with a friend on the balcony of an apartment in Kharkov
  • laughing with my roommate about the stray horse in the courtyard of our apartment building in Kherson
  • making the kids laugh a lot by making up lyrics to a song on the radio and mimicking the person singing it
  • going to dinner with a friend and staying until they closed and then talking in the parking lot
  • lying in bed, cuddled with Emma and Andrew, warm and soft and sleepy
  • working half the night to do inventory with my boss and coworkers and laughing at everything
  • waking up with baby Emma on one side, Andrew and Hannah on the other, and Alex on my feet and not daring to move for fear of waking them up
  • lying on the picnic table at night in our back yard in Indiana when I was little, thinking about what I’d do when I grew up

Just typing all that out, just the fifteen minutes it took me to think those up, turned around how I felt. Life stinks in a lot of ways, but, man, there are some good things about it. The next time I lament giving up my alone time to be with someone else, I hope I remember how all of those things in my fondest memories list were done with other people (well, one was a dog, but maybe that sorta still counts). My friends and family make my life worth sorting out the rough parts!

What If People Talked About Soft Drinks the Way They Talk About Coffee

I’m visiting my sister in Hawaii this week. Yes, I know. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it. You know, beaches, beautiful sunsets, warm weather. We ate dinner outside last night, and no mosquitoes attacked us, no prairie wind blew our dinner off the table, and we did not even have on jackets.

How interesting that the beautiful lamp silhouette appears just in front of the sun...

How interesting that the beautiful lamp silhouette appears just in front of the sun.

But I hate to unload my troubles on you.

Besides the heavenly surroundings, I get to be with my sister. Until this trip, I hadn’t seen her since she and her husband moved away from the midwest about three or four years ago. It seems like a lot longer than that, since my kids were just little things when they left and now they’re getting ready for being teenagers, but I guess it was just a few years ago.

At the beach, in case you didn't notice.

At the beach, in case you didn’t notice.

I’m blessed with a good relationship with my sister, which is interesting to me because I can’t say I’ve had the very best relationship with the rest of my family all of these years. My sister and I never really argue about stuff. We did some when we were little, and I remember an epic battle when we were teenagers. It had to do with a fan that she kept pointing at me, even though I said I didn’t want it pointing at me and moved it away every time she moved it toward me. (I only fight over really important stuff like that.) Full of rage, I saw her impossibly large, 80’s-teased-out, curly hair and impulsively grabbed a handful of it and pulled. She rose from the couch in painful indignation and ripped out half my bangs. I mean, I heard those babies screaming as their follicles left my head.

At that moment, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Although she is younger than I am, my sister has always been a force to be reckoned with physically. I have always been able to reason my way to winning just about every argument, but if it ever comes to a knock-down-drag-out with her, I am destined to lose, lose, lose. And in a way that I will probably never forget. Like the time she punched me in the stomach and knocked the breath out of me or the time she grabbed both of my arms and wrestled me to the ground. Yep, I think twice before I tangle with her physically, especially now that she’s a personal trainer and I’m an overweight, middle-aged mom who would rather sit at her computer than run a mile.

That last big fight over the fan ended with her chasing me to my parents’ room and me waking them up to beg for protection, which is what I usually did, being the tattletale oldest who could probably make anything look like the other’s fault (sorry, Emily!).

So we get along pretty well and have come to the comfortable place where we don’t really bring up things that I can verbally bash her in or things that she can send me to the ER about. Instead, we like to make fun of things. That was one of the things we were both looking forward to doing when I came here, and I yesterday we started the fun.

It was morning, and I saw their coffeemaker and told her how I have thought about getting a Keurig machine. I don’t really drink enough coffee to make a full pot of it, so it seems like a waste of time to get out all of the stuff to make coffee. Seems like it would be easier just to pop one of those little thingies into the machine and make one cup. She said she didn’t drink coffee, and I said I don’t like coffee, but I drink it because if I don’t drink it I’m going to want to drink Mt. Dew.

There, I said it. In the morning, first thing, I will pour a cup of super-healthy Mt. Dew if I can. Before I even think about it, I will grab that 2 liter and swallow down enough calories for a meal. Now that I’m on a health kick and at least trying not to consume a week’s worth of calories in one cup, I’ve cut back on Mt. Dew and all soft drinks. Instead I drink a little bit of coffee in the morning, just so I can have something different and not boring, like water.

The bad thing is that at work people make coffee because they like the caffeine, and I really do not want the caffeine. I would rather have decaf, and I would love it if I could find caffeine-free Mt. Dew in the stores. Unfortunately, it is as rare as a snowball on the Hawaiin beach.

This led to our discussion: what if people talked about soft drinks the way they talk about coffee. Every morning, I read my newsfeed and find all kinds of memes about coffee and how people can’t live without it. When you put it in a different context, you can see how strange it is. What if the newsfeed were clogged with memes about drinking soft drinks early in the morning?

coke baby

mt dew demon

cat

batman

 

Mt Dew sad

Mr Pibb raccoon

It seems odd to me that so many places offer free coffee now. Churches hand it out, my daughter’s orthodontist supplies it, our bank gives it to customers. Why is coffee such an acceptable thing to hand to people, but nobody offers a free Coke to every person who enters. Now that the Keurig machine has made it easier to make a single cup, it seems even more places offer it, but don’t tell me it’s because it’s cheaper than a soft drink. Those little Keurig things cost money, too.

Well, anyway, we had a good laugh over it, and now I’m wondering what more we can laugh about while I’m here. Maybe the teenagers posing like porn stars in their bikinis on the beach?

We Crashed a Family Reunion

This is how I sometimes feel when visiting relatives.

This is how I sometimes feel on vacation. I know I’m not alone in this growly, too-much-fun-is-just-too-much feeling.

I am smack dab in the middle of a week of visiting relatives. And by relatives, I mean step relatives. My youngest daughter, surrounded by my stepfather’s family at a reunion, looked at me with a look of shock and awe and said, “Are all these people my relatives?!” She’s grown up with my stepdad as one of her Papas. He’s treated her like a regular granddaughter. So how to answer that question? Do I say “No, these are just some strangers who have taken us in and treat us nicely”?

I thought for a moment, then said, “Yes, they are your family.” She’s heard all about divorce and remarriage. She knows that Papa isn’t my dad, but I think she needed to fit the new people into her life in some manner, and this was a good way. After all, you can never have too many people to love your children, right?

And maybe I sometimes also feel like this on vacation.

And maybe I sometimes also feel like this on vacation.

Besides, these relatives are actually really great. My mom and stepdad, Tim, have been married for twenty-some years, so even though much of his family lives in Colorado and I live in Nebraska I’ve met many of my stepdad’s relatives before. I went to their family reunion about 18 years ago, when my parents’ divorce and remarriages felt somewhat fresh to me still, and I was unsure how to answer that question of who they were to me myself. I felt strange as an outsider coming into their homes and meeting all of them. Would they even want me there? But they accepted me as one of them from the beginning. Treated me like one of the family when I probably did not, in fact, seem like one of the family to them. Even so, I felt accepted by them.

Last weekend we packed up our car and my parents’ SUV and headed west to Colorado. The vacation promised greatness from the beginning because the children rode in the car with my mom and Tim, and Andrew and I got to spend the entire eight hour trip alone in our car! We all checked into a hotel in Denver, and each night one child slept with my mother, giving us the luxury of only two children, one per parent, and a much easier bedtime routine.

We did some typical touristy things.

We went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You can see Denver in the background.

We went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You can see Denver in the background.

Lookout Mountain in Denver. Not pictured: Buffalo Bill's grave...or maybe not. There's controversy over whether he's actually buried there or not.

Lookout Mountain in Denver. Notice that there is at least one stuffed animal in every photo. This is true of just about every picture ever taken of my girls.

Crossed the Continental Divide...

Crossed the Continental Divide and had our picture taken…along with a stranger’s fingertip. So glad we have that little bit to remember him by!

In the evenings, we had dinner with Tim’s family. The children were shockingly polite. My son even impressed his elders by removing his hat during introductions and inside the house. Nobody argued. Nobody spilled anything or had any wild bodily fluid episodes… not even the children!

The very best part of the whole trip so far, though, happened after a discussion of an injury of my mom’s and how she still is taking medication for it. This came on the heels of a conversation about how Colorado has legalized marijuana, so naturally someone commented about how Mom should self-medicate her injury while at the same time enjoy the state’s newest legalized drug. Of course, my mother would never, ever do such a thing, and that made the joke even more funny.

Andrew and I were talking to Tim’s sister-in-law, who was hosting us at this reunion, and told her about the joke. We said she should have made brownies and sprinkled them with some parsley to offer my mom. She laughed and said, “Well, actually, we have brownies for dessert!” We laughed at the irony and thought no more of it…until she came out carrying a tray of brownies and sporting a twinkle in her eye. She held them out and offered them to us. “I made these special brownies for our guests from out of state. Because you can’t come to Colorado without sampling some!”

Brownie, anyone? Come on, you know you want one!

Brownie, anyone? Come on, you know you want one!

This was possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. This woman, a sweet and beautiful great-grandmother with wonderful artistic ability and a soft-spoken demeanor, offered my mother a plate of pot brownies! I still laugh just thinking about it.

Maybe it’s because this other family hasn’t been intimately present in every minute of my business or because I have only a few pleasant memories of them at two short family reunions. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been an adult in their eyes and have been treated like one from the first day, or because I don’t hold them to the high standards with unreachable expectations like I do my own family at times, but sometimes other people’s relatives who have become your own can be a whole lot of fun! And maybe answering my child’s question the way I did showed me that it’s ok to love stepparents and that loving one group doesn’t mean I don’t love the other.