Beginning and Ending

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m getting ready to make dinner. It’s a special dinner, as it is every New Year’s Eve, since it’s Hannah’s birthday dinner. I told a friend today that our New Year’s Eve is always pretty boring, except for that one New Year’s Eve when we had a baby. That one was pretty exciting.

img_4211That particular New Year’s Eve, we were in the hospital early in the morning, and Hannah was born around 2:30 pm. We were supposed to go to a party with our small group from church, but instead we called them and told them we were in the hospital with our new baby. They all spent the night at their party and came to visit us in the hospital the next day. We were the first of the group to have a baby, so everyone passed her around, talking to her and cuddling her. Those are special memories.

The Beginning and the End

img_4212We had no idea how having a baby would change our lives. We had a cerebral knowledge that everything would be different, but we didn’t know how that change would feel on a day to day basis. I remember telling a coworker I’d decide whether to do some freelance work “when everything went back to normal” after the baby was born. She just laughed and said, “Nothing is ever going back to normal.” How right she was!

I had no idea how it would feel when absolutely no decision  would ever be made again without first considering how it would affect that little being and her siblings. Every single decision now gets filtered through the how-will-it-affect-the-kids filter.

The moment she settled her little self into my arms marked the beginning of the difficult process of thinking about someone else on a consistent basis. That moment ended my ability to live for myself while at the same time pretending to myself that I was living for others. This is something I never learned in Bible college, didn’t learn in ministry, had only begun to learn in marriage at that time. Each step in life has taken me deeper into the project of thinking about others, a huge endeavor to say the least, but the step into parenthood was like stepping off the high dive and jumping into the deep end of a pool of lava. Trial by fire!

img_4213I spent my whole childhood and young adulthood preparing for and doing ministry. I was 100% in when it came to my work. I loved living overseas, loved teaching, loved the kids I worked with, loved my friends there. I loved it all! Having a baby, we decided we’d be staying in the US for a long time. We decided I would stay home with the baby instead of trying to find a job that paid enough to cover childcare. I guess I thought motherhood would be my thing, but over time I still missed other things. I had trouble figuring out what my niche was in this new state of affairs. Besides childcare, did I have a purpose?

 

For a long time, I struggled with this. I felt alone a lot, and I resented my husband for getting to go to work and sit in a quiet office where he did things like read books and write lesson plans. Alone. With hours and hours at his disposal and an endless career to feed.

New Life

Gradually I got used to parenting, to thinking about children ahead of myself. Gradually I adjusted to being home with them, and eventually I did start working again. I earned a masters. I got jobs and now even have a career. Over time, I learned that being a mom can teach me more than I ever thought I could learn. I have learned a lot about sacrifice and trust. I’ve learned about patience and how my words and actions affect others. I’ve learned a lot.

I’d like to say I learned those things well. I’d like to say I loved it all. I’d like to say I didn’t struggle most of the time. I can’t say that, but I can say I’ve made it so far, and I can say that now that they’re almost all teenagers I enjoy parenting. That’s something, right? I love spending time with them and joking around. I like having intelligent conversations about truly important topics. I like sharing real insight and hearing theirs. I love seeing their interests and thinking about the people they’re becoming, wondering what they’ll do in their lives. I love those kids in ways that I could never have understood on that New Year’s Eve fifteen years ago.

Today my girl Hannah got in a car and drove us to the mall. Legally. And today she planned her whole birthday, including that trip to the mall with a friend. Today she made herself a birthday cake for fun with her boyfriend. I listened to them laughing in the kitchen and smiled at the fun they were having. Maybe we did ok after all!

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Journaling a Legacy

Rebecca Waters and I met when she and my husband worked together at a university in Cincinnati. Andrew, the new guy on the faculty, had a tiny office/former closet in the basement of the girls’ dorm. Becky and some of the other professors, all women, had offices upstairs. I remember going to visit him and seeing them. They were always so sweet and friendly. We had just moved to back to the US and didn’t know anyone in Cincinnati, but they welcomed us. That’s the kind of women they were.

keysNot long after we moved to Cincinnati, I came home from work, threw my keys on the kitchen table and went out the back door to read the mail while the dog ran around and did her thing. When I closed the sliding glass door, I heard the safety bar fall into place. I was locked out! Andrew was 20 minutes away in class. I was six months pregnant, and it was 90 degrees out. Becky to the rescue! She brought his keys to me on her way home from work that day.

I remember taking our new baby Hannah, our firstborn, to visit Andrew at school. We walked past the classroom where Becky was teaching. She stopped class to look at our new baby, cooing over how sweet she was. I remember how happy she was to meet Hannah. If you’ve got kids, you know how much you love anyone who loves your children.

I also remember a Christmas party at her house. We somehow showed up an hour early. She met us at the door and let us hang out in her family room while she finished getting ready. And to think Andrew and I had been arguing about how we were running late on the way there!

Becky has gone her own way since those days, and so have I.  She’s written a book and has a blog about writing, and I live in a different state. We don’t see each other anymore, but we keep in touch on Facebook. A while back, she asked me to write a guest post for her blog. I readily agreed. That post happened today.

So here’s to Becky, and here’s to her inviting me to write. Thanks, Becky, for years of steady friendship and caring and for giving me a spot on your blog!

To read the post, click here.

 

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!

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.

Fish and Houseguests

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Movie night with the students. See how happy everyone looks?!

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Most of the time, I think Ben was onto something when he wrote that quote, but this week I disagree.

A week ago, at the end of Thanksgiving break, some sort of pipe/faucet malfunction occurred at the college where we work. A flood followed, and quite a bit of water damage happened to the classrooms, library and dorms. The college arranged for the boys to move to another dorm building and the girls to stay in a hotel. Three of the students asked if they could stay with us instead.

I have to admit I felt reluctant. I wasn’t sure. I told one of them, “I want to make sure we’re all still friends at the end of the week!” because I know that having houseguests can be stressful, for the hosts and the guests. I know I can get tired and grumpy when there’s a lot of extra stuff around the house. I know our family is pretty quiet, and enjoys our time alone to recharge. However, I asked myself what I’d wish I’d done when I look back on these times in ten years. Will I remember how we had a clean house and some quiet time or will I remember the fun we had staying up late and talking and laughing with friends? Not to mention that our children begged us to say yes. So we did.

And guess what. It was great! I loved it! How could I ever have questioned how fun it would be? They happen to be so much like us that we felt like family. I’m so glad we have such great young people in our lives, and I’m happy our children get to be around them. Having different people around lightens things up and gives all of us something different to think about. It’s not just all homework and work. We played Apples to Apples and watched movies. They filled in for us when we couldn’t get home right after work and even cleaned the house this morning!! How great is that?!

I love that we are settled enough to provide a home away from home for college students. We always wished we could have more students in our home, but, frankly, I was too stressed out and busy when the children were younger to host them. I felt like we needed our down time. Now the kids are older, and we can get down time when they’re around instead of just after they’re in bed. Now it’s fun to share our life with other people and build relationships with new people.

So here’s to stepping out and inviting some fish over. Turns out they smell pretty good!

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has to be my favorite holiday. I think my love of the holiday began the day I was born, Thanksgiving 1971. We’ve had a special relationship ever since. Every once in a while, my birthday falls on Thanksgiving, so I always have that to look forward to. I hear some people complain when their birthday happens on a holiday, but I’ve always loved having a holiday birthday. Who else gets to have all their family members present for a big feast on their birthday? And they all bring gifts, of course, because they have memories of that Thanksgiving day I was born (and because they know they’ll feel like a loser if everyone else remembers and they don’t). So it’s special to me.

My grandparents. My grandma was being silly wearing that crazy hat.

My grandparents. My grandma was being silly wearing that crazy hat.

Growing up, my family always went to my grandma’s for a big Thanksgiving meal. She made it all: turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, pies. She was a great cook, too, so it was all good. When I got older and moved away, I celebrated with other people. In Ukraine, the missionaries got together and celebrated. Of course, it’s not a holiday for people in Ukraine, so life went on as normal for them. I remember my first Thanksgiving there. I had two other single women stay over for the night. We got up and went to the market to buy food for the pitch in we’d have later, and the market was full of people doing their regular thing. Nobody knew it was a holiday for us. That felt a little strange, but we still enjoyed going to the other missionaries’ apartment and eating the traditional stuff, even when the downstairs neighbors banged on their ceiling to tell us we were having too much loud fun together.

One year especially stands out to me. I was still in Ukraine and had travelled to Kharkov to celebrate Thanksgiving with the other Americans living there and to celebrate my birthday with my boyfriend, Andrew. That year, my birthday fell on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. I woke up to find that Andrew had brought me a dozen roses and left them at the house where I was staying. Later we went to dinner at a restaurant with a huge aquarium that covered a whole wall of the restaurant. He was quiet and I wondered if he was mad (foreshadowing for the rest of our life LOL). We left and decided to walk instead of taking a taxi. It had begun to snow those huge snowflakes that fall softly and pile up quickly, and we walked through the downtown and through some parks, visiting all of the places we’d gone so many times while we were dating. It was all very romantic, a perfect birthday. We went to his apartment to watch a movie, and before he took me home he said, “Let’s read the Bible together.” He handed me a Bible and said to read where the bookmark was. I opened it, and there was a ring attached to the bookmark, encircling the word “Love” in I Corinthians 13! He asked me to marry him, and the rest is history. Needless to say, that celebration the next day was more exciting than any Thanksgiving ever!

This is a rare picture of my sister and her husband, my parents, Andrew's parents, and us all together. It was 2009, I think.

This is a rare picture of my sister and her husband, my parents, Andrew’s parents, and us all together. It was 2009, I think.

After we moved back and had kids of our own, I wanted them to like Thanksgiving, too. When we lived closer to family, we celebrated with them. Now that we’re far away, we invite friends over.

Our first Thanksgiving in Nebraska. We celebrated with the small group and their families. One of my favorite Thanksgivings!

Our first Thanksgiving in Nebraska. We celebrated with the small group and their families. One of my favorite Thanksgivings!

To me, Thanksgiving is Christmas without the hype and materialism. It’s a day to get together with people we love or to do something for people we want to love. It’s a day to remember the good things God has given us without the distraction of buying, wrapping, opening and putting together toys. It’s a day to eat and not feel guilty about diets. It’s a day to sleep in and have fun together.

So today on Thanksgiving, I wish you all the best day. Whether you’re alone or with family or loved ones, may you find meaning in the simplicity of remembering God’s blessings.

 

Andrew was present this year. He took the picture!

 

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!