A “What If-er”

 

Mood swings, irritability, frustration, guilt and self-recrimination.  That seems to be my constant lately.

Some days I wonder if it’s worth the effort of maintaining any sense of optimism.

Some days, hope is hard to come by.

And then, something happens that turns things around and lightens the load…

On Mondays, I teach a class of Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders at a small private, Christian school.

I pretty much teach a process over product class and place the emphasis on the “what if” idea.  What if you try this…what will happen?  I emphasize creative thinking.  When the class project is done, the kids get to work (play)  in their journals and work with all of the scraps that we have collected in what they have dubbed the “what if” box.

Yesterday, as we were working on a owl drawing and painting project, I shared a story from my own early elementary days.

A long, long time ago when I was about your age, I was working on painting a plaster owl in art class.  We didn’t have an art teacher or classroom at the school I was attending at the time.  It was my regular classroom teacher and she wasn’t an artist. We had red, yellow and blue paint.  I remember that I wanted my owl to look like an owl with lots of colors and texture.  I was young and didn’t know how to achieve that so I kept layering on paint…lots and lots of layers.  The paint began to muddy and crack. My teacher told me that I was doing it wrong and took my owl and washed all of the paint off.  She returned it to me and told me to start over and do it the correct way.  I didn’t want to finish the owl because I was afraid that I wouldn’t do it right.  It’s important to follow instructions, but it’s also important to try new things and not be afraid to make mistakes because sometimes that’s how we find the answers we are looking for. 

After I told the story, my little artists finished up their project for the day and  moved on to their journal time.

As they were working, one of the boys in my class who I often suspect doesn’t listen very much because he is always talking, stopped drawing in his journal and said to me…

Miss Kelly, what if God gave you that teacher who messed up your owl so that you would become a “what if-er?  What if you were supposed to become a “what if-er so you could help me be one to? ‘Cause I think I’m a what if-er like you are and we’re supposed to figure stuff out.  Is that even a word?  What if-er?  I think it is and I think that’s what we are.

Well.

What if I’m supposed to be a what if-er and I have just forgotten what that means?

What if it took a child to point out to me that there is a purpose and a meaning to my life that I have lost touch with?

What if I just keep trying things out and remember that life is a process and not a product?  And that I’m going to make mistakes and that’s okay.

What if I quit striving to reach the destination and spend more energy on seeing the joy in the journey?

The destination is a mirage that you never actually arrive at.  The journey is the reality and there are magical moments to be found…often when and where you least expect them.

Here’s to what ifs and the what if-ers who explore them…and to the joy to be found in the exploration…

And here’s to the purported wisdom of owls and some art teachers (including myself) and the actual wisdom of small children…

 

– and to following the instructions (mostly) and then celebrating the beautiful, varied and sometimes messy results of our “what if ” life.

Advice for What It’s Worth…

There is no such thing as a simple wedding…

Which makes sense because there is no such thing as a simple life (which doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to work towards simplicity…I believe it’s called living in hopefulness)

Simple and small weddings turn into large and complicated weddings because life tends to do the same as we go about living it.

Who to invite, location, decorations, registries, Pinterest don’t get me started on this topic), food, drinks, showers, transportation, and the list goes on and on.

Oh, did I mention the lists?  List after list of things to do and buy and organize and plan for…lots and lots of lists.

And all of this is mixed into a daily life that doesn’t always get the memo that something new is happening.

For what it’s worth, here is some advice based on what I’ve learned from our wedding.

Do not, under any circumstances, spend three weeks out of the month before the wedding with the flu, allergies, another virus and a relapse of the flu.  You will try to soldier on, but end up spending hours in a fog losing every list and forgetting everything that everyone else thinks you are doing.

Being ill will result in you forgetting important things like the fact that people will be staying in your home and will need to eat meals.  The house will not be cleaned and food will not be planned.  Realizing that you forgot this fact just hours before the guests arrive will be a humbling experience to say the least.

Next, do not head out to the non-rehearsal dinner on a limited amount of sleep and leave the wedding cakes securely wrapped in saran-wrap in the center of the very tall kitchen island.

When you return home after a few glasses of wine, you will hear your oldest daughter asking from the kitchen, “Where are the cakes?”

You will answer, “On the kitchen counter wrapped in saran wrap where you left them.”

The cakes will not be there…or anywhere else that you search in your sleep-deprived state.  You will search the oven, the microwave, the top of the closet, the laundry room, the bathroom and other ridiculous places before your husband thinks to go look under the ramp in the back yard.

Sure enough, there you will find the cardboard circles and the saran wrap, but no cakes. Even under intense interrogation, none of the dogs in the house will confess, or even explain, how they gained access to the cakes.

At midnight the night before the wedding, your husband will travel the 45 minutes to and from the grocery store to get more cake mix.

I would like to tell you that it is possible to handle this situation with grace and patience, or even with humor.  I don’t know if it is possible.  I do know that we did not.

And do not waste time lamenting the projects you did not get done.  The signs that were unpainted and the decorations forgotten at the house.  And by the way, no matter how much you plan, your errand runners will make the trip back to the house many, many times.

If you forget the marriage license, for example, someone can always kindly volunteer to run it to the pastor’s house the next week.  Not that I would ever do something like that.

And most importantly, on the day of the wedding, when your daughter walks down the pathway with her beloved, just be in the moment.

Realize how beautiful she is and how happy she looks.

Know that it was all worth it.

And don’t worry about the fact that the Kleenex you are opening and using still has the clearance tag attached to the back of it.

The little stuff doesn’t matter.

It never does.

 

 

The Final Tale

 

But first an update on story #1…the narrative of youngest daughter starting school.  Let me share (if you are a veteran reader you already know this) that I am 100% a liberal arts person.  I understand the basics of the birds and the bees and I can tell a conifer from a deciduous tree.  I know what happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar.  That’s about it for biology and chemistry.  As far as math goes, let’s just say that I consider it a win if my checkbook balances and I do that everyday so it’s not too many numbers.

Since I have a definitive bias towards art, literature and writing, it is possible that I may have let the math lessons slide a bit.  Youngest daughter also has struggled with the retention of even the most basic of math facts.  Loads of tears, worksheets, computer programs and textbooks later, we finally happened upon something that worked two months ago.

At the beginning of the summer we were still working on addition and subtraction.  It just didn’t make sense to her.We found a computer program that she really enjoyed and with the looming deadline of placement testing for her new school, she had quite a challenge before her.

Keep in mind that she is entering the sixth grade and had to place in fifth grade or better to take math on campus.  At the beginning of the summer she was at a second grade math level.

She tested on Monday and place firmly at the fourth grade level…almost to fifth. They are allowing her to register for the sixth grade math class based on the fact that she accomplished so much over the summer.  I suspect that she is actually really great at math and just needs a teacher who can guide her (someone who can actually do math and isn’t studying ahead trying to remember how to do long division)!

What these words leave out is how truly hard this all was.  Copious tears and meltdowns for both of us.  Me feeling like I had failed her.  She feeling dumb.  Apologies and hugs. Giving up and starting over.  Endless lists of what we needed to get done (me).  Endless doodling on the page meant for figuring out answers (her).

It is done.  She is entering school on the same level as everyone else in her class.  We saw her desk yesterday with her binder laid out and waiting for her.

That made it so real.  And hard.  And happy.  And proud.  And anxious.  And….

on to story #3…

Binky Goes on an Adventure

I love all my kiddos.  I even like them a lot of the time. Honestly there have been times (in all of our lives) when I would have traded them for a fountain diet coke with crushed ice, but I’ve given that addiction up, so it’s a moot point.  I stuck it out…they didn’t run away from home (well, one of the did, but she came home).

When my two girls left home, I thought I would die.  They both left at the same time and dropping them off at college (the same one my husband and I went to) was impossibly hard.  I survived.  They survived and thrived.

But this is my baby boy, Binky.  This unfortunate nickname is no longer in use, but grew out his extended attachment to his pacifier.

He’s been quietly making plans for his future for quite a while.  He’s never been much on sharing the important stuff.  He’ll coast along for a while and then make a big announcement about what he’s about to do and surprise us all.  I knew he’s been trying to figure out this apartment thing.

I just preferred not to think about it.

It’s time for him to move out.  It’s a good plan.  The apartment is further in towards Austin.  Not too far away for him to bring his laundry home and raid the pantry.

I want him to go and build his life.  He’s an adult. My job is done.

But…he’s also still Binky with all the moments and memories that name symbolizes.

What will my life be like with him not in it all the time.

Sleeping soundly through all the malfunctioning smoke alarms going off for 30 minutes while I try to shut them off.

Endlessly sharing sports names and stats while I struggle to appear interested.

Never straightening out his nasty socks so they can be properly washed.

Continually butting heads with his Dad.

Insisting that the vegetables in a Hot Pocket are enough for a healthy diet.

Living in a room that any decent health inspector would condemn.

Planting daffodil bulbs and sunflowers…well, mainly eating dirt, but we tried.

Always knowing when I need a hug…even when I don’t.

This growing up thing is hard.  For Mom’s and kids.

I’m going to go cry for a while.

It will be okay.

In time.

And, of course, I have Barret the dog to keep me company.  Thank you, Jacob.  I really mean it.

Groovy!

Sometimes I think that I should stop going to thrift stores because it can be too easy to buy stuff.

Other days I know that thrift store shopping is a great idea for someone who is trying to live a more intentional deliberate life.

For example, I like to shop for a lot of my family’s clothes at thrift stores.  I can get better brands and quality than I can normally afford so I’m saving money.  I’m not buying cheap crap that carries the weight of a myriad of social, environmental, and economic issues.  Because the stuff has been worn and washed, I know ahead of time how its going to wear and I don’t buy something that is going to have to be ironed.  That’s just never going to happen around here.

I don’t buy all of our clothing second-hand.  Some stuff is just supposed to be new if you know what I mean and sometimes you just can’t find what you need when you need it.

Because of thrift stores my husband can wear Hawaiian shirts that are actually from Hawaii.  My kid can wear the Justice, Gap and Old Navy clothes that she wants.  If it hangs in the closet for a bit and doesn’t really get worn all that much, it’s no great loss – we just donate it back.  Win…win!

The same goes for other stuff around the house:  dishes, decorative items, art supplies, sometimes furniture, etc…

I’ve just learned (and am learning) to be careful and thoughtful about purchases.

Then there is the magical day – the day that I was just meant to end up at the thrift store even if I was in a bad mood and was looking for some retail therapy even though I knew that buying something wouldn’t necessarily make everything all better.

Because what I found did make things better when I was dealing with a preteen child who shall remain nameless who was perhaps being a bit moody and difficult to deal with.  The kind of day when I needed to remind myself that love conquers all and I do love her more than I could ever have imagined because her life was indeed a miracle in more ways than one.  The day when I kept telling myself that I have survived three other adolescents and none of them are in jail and neither am I even though they might have inspired murderous thoughts at one time or another.

I found this at the thrift store yesterday:

IMAG1197 (1)IMAG1199A genuine 1969 Spirograph Plus missing only one piece.  It still has it’s original cardboard mat and most of the original paper.  How groovy is that!  It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you are playing with a Spirograph.

When you are playing with a Spirograph it’s easy to remember that you love that smart, beautiful, creative little girl who is trying to grow up in a big family in an even bigger world.  The little girl who is figuring out who she is and what her talents are.  The little girl with strength, determination and grit that sometimes comes across as stubbornness and defiance.

When you stop and just spend some time together, you remember that sometimes life is hard and taking the time to play and just “be” for a bit is a splendid idea.

Hamster Wheel of Life

How has it been almost two days since I last posted?  It seems like time flies by so fast and yet nothing of significance has happened to write about.

…so busy running around the wheel of life like a hamster and never really getting anywhere.

But that’s not really true is it?

In terms of “significant” life-changing events, nothing has happened.

No cure for cancer found here.

No Mona Lisa painted.

Haven’t discovered the secret to world peace.

But the busyness of my life is the stuff of real life.  Things have to be done (sometimes over and over again) and although some of it doesn’t seem to be  all that important, life quickly becomes chaos if it is left undone.

Doing dishes, washing laundry, balancing the checkbook, paying bills, schoolwork, actually paying attention to loved ones, late night phone calls answering life questions (or pretending like you actually know the answers), running errands and dropping everything to fix a problem…

It all adds up to something important – this thing we call life.  One person doing what needs to be done in their life and touching another life in the process.  All connecting and getting things done and adding it all together to create something bigger and better.

I try to remember this.  I often fail.  Today I felt the tiny doubts and darkness start to creep in.  What’s the point?  I can’t “balance” anything when there is more need than supply.  I can’t keep up with all that needs to be done.  I’m losing ground and really tired.  I haven’t finished what needs to be done today and now it’s already tomorrow.

It is tomorrow.  Everything didn’t get done and yet the world hasn’t ended.  In the morning I can jump back on my wheel and start running.

Or maybe not.  Maybe I will choose to do each task as if it is taking me somewhere and not a pointless turn around the wheel.  I can choose to believe that my efforts are important and real and significant.

It is a choice isn’t it.

Not exciting.

Not glamorous.

Lots of dried on food, stains that won’t come out, missing socks, explaining a math concept again, chicken poop, dog hair, and someone asking, “where is my…”.

Or I can choose to see the home-cooked meal, running water, warm clothing, time spent with my child, fresh eggs, dogs that are excited when I come home and family that think I know more than I really do.

What’s happened since I last wrote?  Nothing much and everything!

I hope your journey around the sun tomorrow is more than just running on a hamster wheel.  I think we can change the world!

Decluttered on Thursday:

  1. plastic bowls
  2. a too-big sweater that I love, but someone else needs more than me
  3. 3 earrings – a pair that I never wear and one that has been waiting for a lost mate way too long
  4. a reusable grocery bag – got way too many
  5. a pen that only writes some of the time.  It seems to be the one that I always grab when I really need a pen

And today:

  1. underwear bought in the wrong size and never returned to the store
  2. an empty photo storage box
  3. a scarf – pretty, but I never wear it
  4. a pillowcase
  5. a shirt that I really, really want to fit, but no matter how many times I put it on is still too small

 

Seeking Normal

Once upon a time there was a woman on a journey.  She started this journey many, many years ago although she didn’t realize it’s importance at the time.  Maybe she realized that it mattered, but she didn’t really define it or name it or make plans for it until fairly recently.

Initially, when she was a child, she just wanted to find normal and be normal and fit in.  That was the extent of her life plan. She didn’t think much beyond doing the next “normal” thing.

As a young child she just wanted to stay in one place longer than a year.  She didn’t want to move every June and be the new kid in school every September.  She wanted to have a birthday party and invite other kids that she actually knew and hadn’t just met.

As a teenager she just wanted a pair of blue jeans.  It was the seventies.  Every teenager wore blue jeans.  Even the really poor kids who were on free lunch and had to ride the bus to the elementary school to eat.  She was a junior when she finally got a pair of jeans – plain pockets from J.C. Penney’s.

She went to college like she was supposed to.  She majored in English because she promised her Dad she would get a teaching certificate so she would always have a job to fall back on.  She had no intention of teaching and snuck in an extra major in Art because that’s what she really loved.

Somewhere along the line she quit making art because it was time to be a grown up.  In her “normal” world, normal people didn’t make art.

Normal people got married, bought a house and had kids – in that order.  They also had credit cards and two cars.  This means that they had debt.  They had jobs – both Mom and Dad – so that they could buy all of the stuff that they needed.  Each kid had their own room and lots of toys and a big yard to play in.

So, she got married.  This was most definitely not a mistake.  He turned out to be a really great guy who loved her and stuck with her through times that any sane man would have run away from.

She had four kids.  Also, not a mistake.  They are beautiful human beings that amaze her with their talent, self-confidence and abilities – despite the fact that she raised them and was pretty clueless most of the time.

The house was really a good idea also.  She worked to make it a home – the home that she had longed for all of her life.  A place she didn’t have to leave against her will. She had vowed that her family would stay in one place and they pretty much did.  They did move, but never left the same general area.  She provided her family with the stability that she never had.

Then one day the kids started growing up.  She had time.  She started making art again.  And she started thinking – about herself and her life.

She thought about the choices she had made and the ones she hadn’t made.  The path she had travelled looking for “normal”.  She thought about the time she had spent on “auto-pilot” because there just wasn’t the time or energy to be introspective and thoughtful.

She started looking around and realized that “normal” didn’t really exist.  At least not the way she had thought.  Everybody had their own idea of normal.

The first really big eye-opener came when her children started living their own lives and made choices different than the ones she had made.  Honestly, some of their choices seemed a bit scary to her.  She worried about them.  She kept her mouth shut (most of the time).  She watched and marveled and learned.

She pondered her choices and decided that there wasn’t a whole lot she regretted.  Each choice had contributed to the person that she had become and she liked herself well enough.  But, she decided that there were things that she would like to change and she resolved to do so.

…To hell with seeking normal.  She decided it wasn’t too late to find her own way and to stop trying to conform to an ideal that had never existed in the first place.  She realized that this was a hard thing to do.  It’s difficult to deviate from a path that you have travelled for so long.

Then, one day she met a young man – a pretty cool guy.  Smart, educated, thoughtful and caring, he had a wide variety of interests and was brave…so very brave. His “normal” was very different from hers.  He carried a magic backpack that was much like Mary Poppin’s bag.  From it he pulled everything he needed.  He needed very little.  He travelled light and was confident that he could meet his needs and wants without owning a lot of stuff.  She was very glad to have met him.

She was coming to the realization that her journey on the well-worn path meant that she often didn’t really look at the world around her with open and inquisitive eyes.  What had she missed?  What had she categorized as normal and not normal?  What limits had she put on herself and those around her?

She found joy in her realization that she was leaving the path she was on and was making a conscious decision to wander.

 Not the End.

The Ecosystem Under the Fridge

Remember Jiminy and Mulan?  They were the crickets rescued from an untimely death by my youngest.  The ones that were destined to be made into cricket flour granola.  And yes, it’s really a thing – a sustainable, protein-rich food source.

Remember that Mulan escaped and we couldn’t find her because female crickets don’t chirp?  Shortly afterwards Jiminy died.  My daughter believes that he died of a broken heart.  He was determined to escape.  He successfully chewed through the screen two more times before he passed.  I suspect that there is only so much plastic a cricket can ingest before they succumb.

Anyway, it was a sad day.  She carefully placed his remains in an outdoor plant so that he could decompose and complete the “circle of life”.

On with the story…

A couple of nights ago, she notice a tiny (very tiny) light brown cricket on the floor in front of the fridge.  Evidently, Mulan was “with child(ren)” when she escaped.  Much happiness ensued at the realization that the lineage lived on.

I was excited too.  (Sarcasm)  So excited that I thoughtlessly commented, “This will work out great since a tiny green gecko is also living under the fridge.  I’ve noticed him coming and going late at night.”

Youngest quietly asked, “Don’t geckos eat crickets?”

“Um, yes.”  (Crap)

A homeschool science lesson followed.  After lots and lots of googling by youngest daughter, it turns out that Mulan and Jiminy probably had about 100 offspring.

There should be more than enough crickets for the gecko and enough so that Mulan and Jiminy live on.

Google doesn’t answer the question of how many crickets one household needs living under the fridge or whether you actually need a gecko at all.

I suppose you do need a gecko to help control the cricket population.

Sort of a circular question and answer thing…

Kind of like the circle of life itself.