Saturday, May 28, 2016

Apparently I've Taken up Speed Dating

My husband and I recently went out for a real, live, honest-to-goodness date night. Can you say “gift card”? Our dates have changed a lot from our early years together. These days we're just happy to eat “fancy food” and leave the dishes for someone else to wash. Having evolved past the need to entertain or impress each other, we don’t feel the need to talk much. We prefer to linger over our dinner, enjoying the peace and quiet.

Well, my husband lingers.

My entire entrée is gone before he's even done with his salad.

He will take a few bites. Put down his fork. Take a drink. Put down his glass. Maybe check his phone or ask me a question about my day.

I’m more of a shop-vac eater myself. Set a plate down in front of me, and everything within a 12-inch radius will be sucked into the vortex.

What can I say?

Twenty-five years of having kids does things to a person. For twenty-five years, I’ve had to inhale my food before anyone else started asking for seconds. I have been conditioned to hurry and finish my meal before rushing off to to start bath water, run dish water, or switch a load of laundry. (The laundry struggle is very real at our house – once you put a load in the washer, you need to be ready to grab the clothes as soon as the spin cycle is finished. Otherwise, the leak in our second-hand washing machine will get everything soaked again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.)

Twenty-five years.

There was an ever-so-brief stretch of time that constituted my life before children, but that was long ago and far away. Now that period of my life closely resembles the batch of sunflower seeds I recently planted. They started out so fresh and green and full of potential, but then rabbits came along during the night and ate all the leaves before they could get strong enough to survive.

Poor things didn’t stand a chance.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Being a mother has truly been my greatest joy and my highest calling. I’m just saying it has taken its toll on my sense of decorum.

Now I sleep in things I used to work out in, and I go out in public in things I sleep in. My idea of a manicure is a good pair of fingernail clippers, and my purse has become big enough to smuggle value-sized bags of candy into the movies (if I were so inclined).

Things have definitely changed since our lives were overrun by the half dozen human beings that share our name and our DNA. Our home is always in some stage of disorder, and we are daily being stretched to become better people so we can stay one step ahead of the plebeians.

So this is what I have become.

If you see me out and about, be forewarned. I may be in sweats, I may have forgotten what day it is, and I will most assuredly be running late.

I may even be trying to squeeze in a date with my husband; in which case, you might want to respect that 12-inch radius.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Ride of a Lifetime

Raising kids.

Some days you feel like you have it all together and should probably write a manual for all those poor souls who have so much to learn. (You know you've thought it.)

Some days you find yourself hoping there really is such a manual, and that it has been written by someone who actually knows what they're talking about. (And you know it isn't you.)

Some days you feel like a hostage negotiator standing on the sidewalk and calling out, "Look, I just don't wanna see anyone get hurt!" (And you're not sure who you're more worried about - them or you.)

It's true. Raising kids is the ride of a lifetime!

I recently came across a picture of my youngest son when he was about three years old. He was sitting on a trolley in Chicago, all hyped up at the prospect of seeing dinosaurs and mummies at the field museum. It made me smile because it captured his personality perfectly. He always managed to look both sweet and guilty, in equal parts. At three years old, he embraced life and all the experiences it had to offer.

He is in middle school now, and some of the sweetness has given way to the trials and tribulations of junior high, as it always does. Seeing that picture of him suddenly made me realize how far we are from that little boy on the trolley and how very close we are to the boy getting his diploma, and I am fighting a little bit of panic. I just realized I am being pushed relentlessly into the next phase of my life.

And it finally hit me. Every stage my youngest son has left behind has become a "never again."

I will never again wake up snuggled next to my new baby. I will never again have a toddler running around naked (except for the new superhero underwear on his head) with a singing potty strategically placed in my living room. I will never again summon the tooth fairy or mail letters to Santa Claus. I will never again go to kindergarten roundup or have my dining room table marked up with the remnants of shaving cream art, fingerpaint, or gouges from a fork made by a boy impatiently waiting for his dinner. I will never again chaperone an elementary school field trip or gear myself up emotionally for sleepovers or have "the talk" with a red-faced preteen.

I want to hang onto every day, every moment, every breath - because I can feel this phase slipping away faster and faster and soon I know I'm going to wake up and wonder what happened because the house will be quiet and even though I've secretly dreamed of that on my toughest days, I know I'm not ready.

But as I tuck away each "never again," I can see a whole list of "haven't yets" forming on the horizon. They're still pretty hazy and mostly hidden in shadows, but I can still see them.

I haven't yet come home to a quiet house with nothing demanding my attention except a good book. I haven't yet been able to plan vacations with my husband focused solely around the two of us and our mid-life interests. I haven't yet had time to publish my book or spend a whole Saturday in my garden. I haven't yet looked into the face of a new grandchild and felt the promise of a new beginning.

I know it will be hard to let go of this stage - the worrying, snuggling, messy, crazy, joyous stage of raising kids. Even on my most trying days, I have loved having these children and helping them grow. And when this last one finally leaves us to find his own way, I know it won't be easy.

But it will be okay, because there are new things waiting for me just beyond the horizon.

And I haven't yet . . .

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Maybe We're All Born With It

We all know Maybelline's slogan, ("Maybe she's born with it.) Maybe it's Maybelline." This has resonated with women for 25 years because it speaks to what most of us are trying to achieve: a natural beauty that is not at all . . . well . . . natural.

Don't worry. I haven't gone off the deep end. I'm not going to stop cutting my hair and move to the forest, and you definitely won't find me running around one of those secluded beaches in Europe. (I am more than thankful God declared fig leaves weren't gonna cut it back in the Garden.)

I have, however, come to the conclusion that I have been wearing too much make-up.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love make-up. I especially love it on those days when I haven't gotten enough sleep or I'm having a stress break-out. You know what I'm talking about. Make-up covers a multitude of sins, and sometimes I feel like my face is serving hard time!

But I am tired of feeling like I need make-up. Like I am less-than without make-up. Like the face God designed for me wasn't good enough on its own.

There was a time when I would apply make-up to run to the store for milk. Even if I was home sick, I would drag myself to my vanity and try to do something to improve my face. You know, so I would look good while bedridden with fever.


I know, I know. Like I said, it was a problem.

Maybe this realization comes from my years spent living in Thailand, too close to the equator for comfort. Fighting relentless heat and an unforgivable sun, I soon realized I could either (a) wear make-up that would streak, smear, and leave me looking like something from Night of the Living Dead, or (b) go without makeup and at least look a little more human (albeit a pale, exhausted one).

Maybe it comes from having six kids and going back to work full-time and not having as much time to preen in front of a mirror.

Or maybe - and I think I'm onto something here - it comes from being more at peace with who I am as a person, inside and out, and feeling a lot better about the "me" that I present to the world.

Let's face it: It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there au naturale, especially when you have never, EVER, done it before. People look at you strangely, and you know they're trying to convince themselves you really are the same person they were talking to just the other day, while at the same time wondering what catastrophe must have taken place in your life to make you leave the house looking like that. (Was her house on fire and here she is buying first-aid supplies, having narrowly escaped with her life? Does her child need life-saving penicillin from the pharmacy within the next 10 minutes?) I recently ran into one lady from work who later told me she didn't recognize me at first "without my make-up." Apparently, she had been unprepared to come to terms with the fact that I was definitely not "born with it." Not with what she saw Monday through Friday, at least!

Let me say it again, I love make-up. I still wear it nearly every day, and there are some places I will never be seen without it. But I have started leaving it off every Saturday, almost without exception, and now I find myself looking forward to Saturdays even more. I even took a whole week-long vacation last summer and left my make-up bag at home. Yes, a week. We weren't going anywhere that required dressing up, and I wanted to keep things simple and fun. We took lots of pictures, and they're plastered all over social media. Talk about having guts!

There is something freeing about putting yourself out there just as you are. Some of you already do this every day, and I commend you. You go, girls! But if this is a dangerous thought for you to wrap your mind around, I encourage you to try it - just for one day. I mean, go ahead and fix your hair and wear cute clothes, by all means. I'm not advocating giving up entirely. (My "natural" hair color has been coming from a bottle for looong time now.) But, just once, go somewhere in public with absolutely nothing on your face. (Okay, maybe some chapstick.) It's weird. It's awkward. Hey, it's downright scary.

But it's also strangely empowering. When I leave the Maybelline at home and step out into the world within the limitations of what I was actually born with, I know I don't look as polished as I normally do. But that's exactly my point. With my bare face, I am telling the world - and, even more importantly, myself - that this is the real me, and I'm okay with that.

And you know what?

It's good enough.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Subtle Strength: A Marine Wife's Perspective

What comes into your mind when you hear the word "strength"? I saw an ad the other day that made me stop and think. It boasted, "Nitric Oxide is without a doubt the most powerful solution when it comes to sparking natural muscle growth, powerful strength gains, and incredibly ripped muscles." At the mention of the word "strength," most people think of body builders, wrestlers, and other athletes who have an impressive physique. They might also think of policemen or bodyguards - everyday careers that require a higher measure of strength than most of us possess.

Thanks to the man I married, one occupation that always comes to my mind is that of a soldier.

In the early 1990s I had the opportunity to live on a Marine Corps base in southern California. The Marines there prided themselves on being the best of the best, the bravest of the brave, and the strongest of the strong. These men and women had to pass grueling physical tests in order to stay enlisted as Marines. They ran marathons through mud for fun. They marched 20 miles with 75-pound packs on their backs. While on overseas deployments, far from their homes and families, most spent their free time in the gym. They boosted each other's morale by "talking big" and hiding their fears, loneliness, and homesickness.

There was no doubt in my mind that these Marines were strong. At times, they were called upon to face unimaginable situations. Some left their families not knowing when - or if - they would ever return home. Some saw their friends die. Yet they had to keep on fighting. They fought for their countries, their families, their ideals, and - at a basic level - for their livelihood.

However, a different side of strength was soon revealed to me. I was a young bride with a brand new baby when my husband left for Saudi Arabia in January 1990. My friends and I suddenly found ourselves acting as the heads of our households, and none of us had even reached our 25th birthdays. As the ones left behind, we were working, managing households, and adjusting to our new roles as mothers - alone - far from the support of our own mothers, aunts, and sisters. We learned to live with the nagging fear that one day we'd receive an unwanted visit from the chaplain, who could change our lives and shatter our dreams in the time it took to say, "I regret to inform you . . . " Our husbands wrote letters for us and for our children - just in case.

I discovered a deep level of strength in myself and in these women who became like sisters to me. I felt it as we gathered in frightened clusters to hear President Bush's latest updates that interrupted standard television programming at random hours. (We lived for those interruptions and would call each other every time - "Quick! Turn on your TV! The president's on again!") Strength hovered around our get-togethers where we tried to pretend like life was still normal. Strength rested just beneath the surface of every phone call, every household chore, every midnight feeding. Strength propelled us to get through each day without falling apart at the seams until our husbands returned.

Looking back at that time in my life, I can honestly say I am grateful. Grateful, of course, that my husband made it home safely; grateful that I never had to give my daughter her "just in case" letter; grateful for the overwhelming support that came from both friends and strangers. But, most of all, I am grateful for the chance to learn what I was made of. When I hear about strength, I know - somewhere deep inside of me - that it is so much more than well-defined muscles. Strength is not only displayed through the typical signs of power, sometimes it is quietly manifested through the subtlety of endurance.

Every day we show up and continue to put one foot in front of the other, we grow a little bit stronger. And after we have strung enough of those days together, we become stronger than we ever thought we could be.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
2 Timothy 1:7