Thursday, December 8, 2016

Caught not Taught: More Lessons from My Mother

One day I was a young college student, thinking that my mother would always be there to pick me up if I fell down; the next I was a motherless daughter.

In the decade between when I lost her and when I began having children of my own, I had plenty of time to consider what her mothering meant to me. In realizing that only 18 years of memories had to last a lifetime, I soon became aware of what stood out as important, and what would most influence me as a mother. 

Rather than any grand gestures, the secure gift of her presence impacted me the most, and I try to give that to my children despite a distraction-filled life. 

You see, she was the mom who would stop what she was doing to play board games with rowdy teenagers, or cut our boyfriends’ hair on a tall stool in the kitchen. That’s also where we’d find her when we wanted to talk. Speaking of kitchens, ours was a messy one, papers piled high the counters, yet there was always room for one more person at the table at dinnertime. 

Remembering her generosity with her time and her heart made me want to parent the way she did, in a loving and relaxed way. When I became a parent, and my own competitiveness and perfectionism threatened to sink me, I’d remember my mother. If I got wrapped around the axel about my daughter not sleeping in her crib, I’d remember the comfort folding myself into my mother’s soft body in bed when I didn’t feel well. When I’d get embarrassed that my son acted silly in class, I’d remember a mother who never made me feel bad for the low marks on my own report card under the heading, “Exhibits Self Control.”

I could remind myself that sleep methods would come and go, and report cards would end up tucked away in a folder somewhere, but being a present mom, not a perfect one, could last a lifetime, even after I was gone.

What she gave me most, in life and in death, I believe, is perspective. The perspective to realize that a child in the bed now and then, does not lead to an adult in the bed. That, like me, my kids would someday learn to exhibit self control. And that while I felt much calmer with clutter-free countertops, clutter wouldn’t detract one bit from my kids’ childhood. 

And, unlike my friends who still had their mothers. I knew that it could all vanish in an instant. 

Sad as that sounds, those who experience loss are often given this unsought gift of knowing what is important. Instead of running myself ragged trying to construct for my children the “perfect childhood,” lest it all be ripped away in an instant, perspective gave me permission to create tiny rituals and play to my strengths, which is what my mother did.

Mom would pull a large jar of Peter Pan peanut butter out of a brown paper grocery bag and place it wordlessly on the counter. It was a silent challenge. Whichever kid noticed first would grab the jar, open it, and scoop a finger full of peanut butter out, earning bragging rights. Skiing in the alps, it wasn’t, but it taught me that the tiny rituals are what knit families together. I may be much less laid back than my mom was, but I can institute Ice Cream for Breakfast Day on the first snow day of the year, make up silly sayings as I drive around town with my kids, tell the same old stories as I unpack the Christmas ornaments each year, and stay up later than I want to if my teenager finally feels like talking.

Mom was a lackluster costume maker and a mediocre gift giver. But she could decorate the heck out of a house and patiently read the same chapter books over and over. She practiced hospitality in our home and wherever she went with her big smile and ready laugh.  Most importantly, she saw her three kids as distinct individuals, not just extensions of herself. 

I can't bake cookies worth a darn, and the family is much happier on nights when Daddy cooks dinner. I get grumpy when the house is a mess, and you wouldn't want to talk to me in the morning before I've had my 3rd cup of tea. My hair braiding skills are just as bad as my math ones. But I can find  humor in most circumstances, I apologize often, and I'm pretty good at seeing someone else's point of view. I am extremely loyal, will keep confidences, and am a generous ice cream scooper and snuggler. 

The way I remember my mom-- she was a flesh and blood person who loved hard and didn't try to do or be all things to all people. She was enough. 

The gift of her presence, and the impact of tiny rituals, not grand gestures, whether they were based on her religious faith or even a silly jar of peanut butter are what I remember most, and what helped me formulate my own To Do/To Be list as a mom.

1) Be present
2) Have Perspective
3) Play to your strengths

Of course, some days are easier than others.

What would your To Do/To Be list look like?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

TV Temptations: A Different Kind of Shopping Guide

You already know that I'm a sucker for "As Seen on TV" products.

Of course there is my ardent affection for the Scrub Daddy, which is Shark Tank's biggest success story ever. That little scrubber is amazing AND cheerful. I love to give them to friends in my modest imitation of Oprah: "YOU get a Scrub Daddy!" "And YOU get a Scrub Daddy!" I love how it never gets smelly, and it works differently in hot and cold water.

But did you know that we used another Shark Tank product to transition Baby Andrew out of his beloved swaddle? The Zippadee Zip makes him look like a cute little starfish, and it gives him that extra security and snugness he craves.

Today I was in my happy place, Bed Bath and Beyond, and when I looked in my cart, I realized just how many products I use are from infomercials, shopping networks, or Shark Tank. There was this potato pocket thing Margaret got me last Christmas, knowing my love for fun gadgets and of course POTATOES. Who wouldn't love a perfectly baked potato in 3 minutes? It works so well and it's easy for her to use.

Then there was the Veggetti Spiralizer  I bought for myself and as a gift. Margaret has so much fun turning zucchini into noodles, and at only $20, how could I resist? No one is going to make me think zucchini tastes like pasta, but I love to saute a bit of garlic, onion, plus "zoodles" and serve with pasta sauce. I also use it to slice potatoes for soups.

Today I bought Tim a My Pillow, because he is always stealing mine. I say to him, "Did you take My Pillow" and stage whisper "trademark" because he is a patent lawyer and I think that's pretty funny. He's getting his own for Christmas so he will leave mine alone.

A lot of these products I learn about on TV but then order online at Amazon or buy in stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond.

I remember my first TV purchase, way back in the 80's. I hesitate to tell you, but it was the Gut Buster, a spring loaded contraption guaranteed to bust my "gut." We didn't even call them abs back then. I don't know whether it worked or not, because I never tried it. A few years later, I unloaded it at a garage sale. I'm happy to report I'm one of the few who never ordered a Thigh Master, courtesy of Suzanne Somers. They are always springing up on the thrift store shelves, but I've resisted thus far.

What about Huggable Hangers? Total game changer in my closet, and the generic ones work just as well as the name brand ones do. And Joy Mangano's My Little Steamer means I'll raise yet another child who doesn't know what an iron is.

During times of pregnancy insomnia I learned all you would want to know about the Shark vacuum, and I'm very happy with mine.

The list goes on to skincare, jewelry, even flip flops.

I've been beyond thrilled with 90% of the products I've purchased that I first saw on TV. I couldn't tell you about the Ped Egg, though, because as soon as I bought it, I became too hesitant to use it on my callous-y feet. I was nervous I'd cut myself. I told Jack, "I think I'm afraid of my Ped Egg" and he fell on the floor laughing, and said, "Mom! I love you!" Oh, and remember the post when he also thought it was pretty lame when I bought a $5 knock-off of the As Seen on TV Shake Weight? Never used that one, either.

Which brings me to the 10% of products that have been an utter failure for me. Almost all of them, like the Gut Buster and the Shake Weight, are exercise-related. I try to avoid buying these products because I know they will just gather dust until I get rid of them, amid shame and self-flaggelation, which appears to be the only kind of exercise I engage in on a regular basis.

But today, when I was at Bed Bath an Beyond, there was something tempting right up front at the register. For only $39.99 I could purchase the Simply Fit Board I've been eying it ever since I saw the cutest, fittest, grandma inventor demonstrating it on Shark Tank. After all, I want to be cute and fit, and I already feel like a grandma.

At the last second I hoisted it into my cart and handed over my 20% off coupon. It was heavier than I thought, so perhaps THAT was my workout for the day.

SOOOOO, do you think I should return it NOW, or wait until I wrap it and unwrap it on Christmas morning?

--affiliate links are above for your convenience, just don't tell me if you buy a gut buster--

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Cozy Blanket: Giving Tuesday!

As I've mentioned before, having a new baby makes me feel connected to other mothers around the world.

It is impossible for me to ignore that while Andrew has so much, there are so many babies who have so little.  Recently, as I gathered up his outgrown onesies and cozy, extra baby blankets, I looked into mailing them to some of the Armenian women I met on my trip with World Vision.

In the process, I was reminded of something I've learned when it comes to charitable giving: it is often best to let local organizations choose what best suits the needs of local people, because they can help in strategic, cost effective ways. For instance, I discovered it would cost me over $45 to mail a small receiving blanket and onesie to Armenia, far more than the items were worth. Yet if I made a monetary donation, local World Vision workers could ensure that just the right help finds those who need it.

In my research about baby blankets, I read several touching stories about how something a simple as a blanket can make a difference to a mother and child, like Seida and Joyce in Zambia.

Because of the cold, Seida worried about the well-being of her children, especially for her seven-month-old Joyce. “My worry was how my children will survive the cold, especially for Joyce who doesn’t have anything better to keep her warm.” 

“I am grateful to World Vision for giving me such a precious gift which I never expected. Who else could have given it to me here?” she asked further. “I have four children but none of them has ever had a privilege to feel the warmth of a blanket like this one.” 

“As you can see I am not the only one who is happy; my daughter is happy, too. We never expected this,” Seida said joyfully.

She adds, “Although at the clinic we are advised to have such blankets at the time of delivery and after to keep the babies warm, I have never afforded any.”  

“Now that I have this blanket, I’ll use it well so that the next child can also use it and benefit. As a mother, wrapping my child in such a blanket brings me honor and pride,” Seida says further.

Seida’s fear about exposing her daughter to the cold had been that the baby could get sick and die. “At the clinic we are advised to keep our babies warm always because they can suffer from pneumonia, a very dangerous disease which does not cure easily. So the blanket will help my child a lot.”

Seida is a small-scale farmer who cannot afford to buy such a blanket because they are expensive and cannot be accessed anywhere in rural areas.

Wow. That humbles me, big-time, and makes me want to give that kind of joy and warmth to other mothers in need this Christmas.

TODAY is Giving Tuesday! 

I absolutely LOVE Giving Tuesday! Any gift given to World Vision today will be generously matched with a product donation from Thirty-One Gifts up to $2,000,000, so any donation you make will have twice the impact for helping families in need around the world.

The Thirty-One Gifts donation of product includes items like apparel, thermals, and totes. Last year, the Thirty-One Gifts blankets that were included in their Giving Tuesday match were used in World Vision programs around the world to keep infants warm and healthy. 

You can choose ANY item to donate through World Vision today, such as the variety of items offered in the World Vision Gift Catalog, but if you want to make a direct donation to support new mothers and their infants, I recommend the New Mother and Baby Kit!  

And no need to worry about all of Andrew's extra clothes and blankets. I gave them to a friend who is going to hand deliver them to her new great grandson in Hondurus! 

Micah 6:8

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hardcover Copies of Rare Bird

I'd love to sign and mail a hardcover copy of Rare Bird for your friends and loved ones this holiday season. Each book is $15 shipped. 

Email to order!

Friday, November 18, 2016

True Colors

Yesterday we put Jack's old surfboard sheets on the extra bed in the baby's room, where I sleep from about 3-6 most mornings after I've tended to Andrew. We haven't used those sheets in the three years we've lived in this house, but yesterday the other set was in the wash and our cleaning lady, who helps out twice a month, offered to change the beds for me. I couldn't say no. What a treat it is to have a bed made up nicely rather than in the haphazard way I do it! (Remember when Jack used to make Tim's and my bed every morning for a dollar?)

When our cleaning lady saw the colorful surfboards, she immediately recognized them as Jack's. I didn't think much of it until this morning at three when I crawled under the navy blue comforter and between the familiar sheets. It took me right back to snuggle time with Jack.

Gosh, he loved his old bedroom, the largest in the house, with its built-in bookshelves and big windows. He loved the lime green walls (he called them chartreuse) and the navy and white stripes that Tim and I somehow painted without messing up or even arguing. But Jack was a little concerned about the surfer theme that I "dove" into wholeheartedly as I planned his big boy room.  Surfboard sheets, beach shack signs, little shark and surfboard lights around his windows. "Is it okay to have a surfer room if I don't surf?" he asked. Sure it was. Plus, I thought there would be plenty of times Jack would go in the ocean, at his own pace, even if he never became a surfer. I couldn't know he wouldn't ever leave the sand.

His concerns seemed so cute to me, but not surprising.

Jack always wanted to be authentic.

A few years later, when I bought him a Mountain Dew shirt at Five Below, it sat unworn in his dresser for months. Finally I asked, "Are you ever going to wear that shirt, or should I donate it?" He answered that he didn't feel right wearing it if he'd never tasted Mountain Dew. He said it was kind of like false advertising, since he didn't know whether Mountain Dew was good or not. I replied, "You know you could have asked me, right? We can get you a Mountain Dew to see what you think." He was surprised, but delighted, and it became one of favorite shirts that last year.

I try to be authentic, too.

I want my inner and outer selves to match. I want to live out my values even if inertia, laziness, and  too much comfort try to entice me to do otherwise.

And I want to offer no shocking surprises should Dateline rig up the house with hidden cameras, or record my interactions with anyone from family members to strangers. Sometimes my intentions are really good, but my actions don't show evidence of it. Instead of being loving, generous and expansive, I am cranky, insular, and selfish.

The things that I think about, and how I spend my time and my money do not always reflect what I tell myself my true priorities are.

Plus, there is the risk that if I show my authentic self and people don't like it, I've made a mistake in being vulnerable.

Just some thoughts I have today, sparked by memories of a young boy who made sure his insides and outside matched.

Monday, November 14, 2016

When has Saying "Calm Down" ever Calmed Anyone Down in the History of Calming Down?

I was honored to give a talk on Friday to a Christian networking group. I spoke about finding hope in grief, and I used my personal experiences to illustrate strategies that I have found helpful in the midst of great pain.


One of my greatest hopes in writing so much about grief for the past 5 years, is that I can help grievers and those people who are trying to support/understand them navigate grief in healthy ways. And truly, this kind of understanding is needed for ALL of us, for we will all grieve in this lifetime.

I bring this up today because there are many people in our country grieving what feels like a sudden and unexpected loss, and there are many others saying, "Move on!" "Get over it!" "Let it go!"

Yes, one of the ways in which we do find hope amidst great pain is in letting go of things eventually,  --primarily an expectation for the way we thought things would/should be. This is something that often comes with time, but it is never effective if INFLICTED on someone else.

If we do not let ourselves feel or acknowledge grief, it festers, it rots, it grows. Acknowledging pain and brokenness does the opposite.

I have friends who were not able to be around my pain in losing Jack. It spoke to their deepest fears of losing a child of their own. And perhaps the messiness of my grief made them uncomfortable. I became "other". They wanted me to get better, fast, and maybe not talk/write about it so much. But if I had stuffed my grief, shoved it away, and MOVED ON, not only would I likely be in a much darker place now, I also would not have used my hard-earned (yet unsought) wisdom in service to others.

You see, pain that is tamped down or stifled says, "I've been hurt. This isn't fair! I want to hurt others so they will feel as miserable as I do!" Pain that is let out into the light, into the world, says, "I'm hurting. I will not calm down, sit down, shut up, or pretend that everything's okay. My grief is not on someone else's timetable.  I may not get the time machine I long for, but I will look ahead right now to see how I can help someone else."

That is what is going to happen. Pain that is let out in the air, not tamped down, will effect positive change.

Sure, the "losers" will eventually "let go" of their expectation of victory for their candidate. I don't believe that's the crux of what's going on anyway. But, if given the opportunity and RESPECT to feel their feelings, just as every griever deserves, they will be able to channel this disappointment into not pretending everything is okay, but rather into continuing to work for/fight for what they believe is right in a world that feels upside down to them right now.

That's what I'm thinking today.

But first I need to say I am sorry.

I am sorry for any role I may have had in not understanding pain that has gone unacknowledged or festered for many years and that may have led to an election outcome that I didn't expect.

I am sorry for oversimplifying here when I share my heart with you, and if for any reason you feel carelessly lumped into one category/one motivation/one issue when I write about the election, I am sorry for that, too.

I am sorry if linking election grief to the grief of losing a loved one causes any of you more pain than you are already experiencing. I promise that's not what I'm trying to do.

And I'm sorry if saying I will not pretend everything is okay in our country right now causes anyone to think that I am someone who wants to stir up trouble, or that I am a whiner.

For something is already stirred up in this country we love, that is for sure, and I won't be quiet and I won't calm down if there is ANYTHING I can do to help make it better, whether that makes people uncomfortable or not. My biggest fear is that we will stop paying attention to what's going on, and before we know it, what felt outrageous a year ago, or a month ago, or a day ago, will start to feel normalized. That's one of the greatest risks of calming down.

My trust is in God alone, not in any man/woman or office.

Yet I believe that God calls me to look beyond my own comfort/privilege/security to the needs of others, to not numb myself, to stay engaged with eyes wide open, and to call out prejudice, hatred, and injustice when I see it.

 Calmly or otherwise.