Monday, April 22, 2013

S - Skipping

S is for skipping. Yes, I am skipping the letter S. Why? Because I’m behind and because I don’t have anything good in mind for that letter. Yeah, I know there are lots of great words that start with S. Sunshine. Silence. Stillness. Sinister. And I’m pretty sure it’s the most popular letter on Wheel of Fortune. Still, I’m skipping it. So sue me.

R - Relationships

Not the hokey pokey. Relationships. That’s what life is all about. Not work or money. Not success or fame. We may spend lots of time trying to chase those things because they seem like they’re what it’s all about. But when it comes down to it, it’s about relationships. It applies in parenting too. It’s also very easy to forget in parenting. We’re so busy with the daily details of getting kids to school, to practice, to bed, feeding them, etc. etc. etc., that we can forget that it’s not about all the things we do for them. It’s about having a relationship with them. That’s what we must pursue with everything in our being. Why? Because sometimes relationships are hard. Now it’s hard to see this when you’re looking at your sweet little cooing baby. But wait until they hit eleven or twelve and suddenly get an attitude. They talk back; they fight you on everything. It feels like they are the enemy. This is when it gets tough. But this is when we have to remember that that’s what parenting is about. About loving our kid unconditionally and pursuing that relationship with the child even when said child is being more difficult to get along with than we could ever fathom. About not giving up when we don’t know how to reach them. About forgiving them and forgiving ourselves when we fail every single day. About choosing to take an interest in something we don’t give a hoot about simply because they do. About listening to them when they are ready to talk and not demanding they talk to us on *our* time table. About being there for them even when it’s inconvenient for us. About loving that kid when he’s at his most unlovable.
It’s hard. So hard. Harder than I ever dreamed at times. But that’s what relationships are about. No one ever said parenting was easy. No one ever said life was easy. Nothing great ever is.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q - Quiet

                          “In quietness and trust is your strength” Isaiah 30:15

I am learning to appreciate the value of quiet. Chaos swirls around me most days with a toddler, a preteen and a big pup in our home. I know that one day I will miss the noise and craziness. But it also makes me treasure the quiet times. Early morning when one’s at school and the other is sleeping. Late evenings when everyone else is in bed. Our culture likes noise; we’re surrounded by it. It’s like we’re afraid to be silent, to be still, to be alone with our thoughts. When I walk our dog sometimes at night, I see televisions glowing in most of the homes.

Even when we can silence our surroundings, it can still be tough to quiet our minds. Last year our church had a day-long retreat. One of the exercises involved being silent in order to hear from God. We had to simply sit in silence for fifteen or twenty minutes and try to quiet our minds and listen. Most of us found it hard to stop our thoughts from racing. 

Why is it so hard to just be quiet? For me, at least, I think it’s partly because I am constantly trying to figure things out or to control things in my world. Or maybe we feel like our worth lies in doing enough, in accomplishment. We don’t want one minute of downtime. That would be wasted time. But is it?

Quiet can restore us; it can calm us. It enables us to tackle our busy life with renewed vigor. And as the verse says, that’s where our strength is. That’s where God speaks to us. In the quiet. In the stillness. Deep within our hearts. Could it be that that’s what we are afraid of? Is that what we run from?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P - Present

No one is present where they are anymore. At least, that’s how it seems. This is one of my pet peeves. I go to the grocery store, and people are on their cell phones. The other night I saw a couple walking through the neighborhood. Both were on cell phones. We have to wait; what do we do? Get out the phone or electronic device. God forbid we actually engage right where we are.

Not that technology is a bad thing. Certainly there are times it makes life much easier. But we take a good thing and abuse it. Suddenly we can’t be anywhere without our crutches. What if we actually had to talk to the clerk in the store? Or, God forbid, be a little bored for five minutes? It’s not going to kill us.

And what are our kids learning from all this? How can we expect them to have any sort of ability to focus or pay attention when we don’t? What message does it send to them that we spend so much time on these diversions and get irritated when they interrupt or distract us?

Fact is, the present is all we really have. We’re not guaranteed anything else. We need to embrace what’s right in front of us. I have a feeling that when we get to the end of our lives, we won’t be wishing that we had spent more time with our electronics. We’ll be wishing we’d spent more time being really present. Right where we were.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O - Overwhelmed

O is for overwhelmed. Obviously. Or can you not tell? Oh, where are M & N? Over the rainbow. On the trash heap. Ok, I can’t keep this up much longer; it’s just annoying.

I overwhelm easily. It doesn’t take much. I actually had M and N posts. I made notes and everything. Lots of thoughts in my head. Maybe I will flesh them out after the A to Z challenge and post them. For now, I cannot let the overwhelm get the best of me. Onward I go.

Life throws a lot at us. The house is such a mess, we don’t know where to start. We can’t even get dinner on the table because the baby is screaming, the dog’s chewing something and we can’t find a clean pot.

I’m certainly no expert because I still struggle with it. But what does help me is to focus on this: one thing. Just do something. One thing. The only thing that maybe I know to do. It may not feel like much. But it’s one step in the right direction. When I have a pile of dishes or papers that overwhelms me, I sometimes use this trick. Every time I walk by said pile, I clean up one thing. Just one. At first, it doesn’t feel like I’m doing much. But it’s also easy and non-threatening. And eventually you get to where you can see progress. It’s amazing how your point of view changes when you can see a little progress. You’re not so overwhelmed anymore.

This can be applied to bigger things too. You may not have a clue how to solve world hunger, but you can donate to or volunteer at your local soup kitchen. You may not be able to do anything about the partisan political climate, but you can stop demonizing those who disagree with you. You may not be able to bring about world peace singlehandedly, but you can stop belittling your child.

You don’t have to do it all. Just do one thing. Just one. Try it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L - Life Lessons

Yep. I’m skipping J and K. Why? Well, the perfectionist in me really really wants to write a J post and a K post. But the realist in me knows that the further behind I get, the more overwhelmed I will be. And giving up isn’t far behind.

 Sometimes life is like that. You get further and further behind and just cannot catch up. I have learned that you just have to jump in where you are. (Well, shoot, that would have been a J post, wouldn’t it?) You have to leave behind what you haven’t done. You have to cut yourself some slack and look forward. Otherwise it’s too easy to just give up. Believe me, I’ve almost given up on this challenge already and it’s not quite half over. Sometimes you just gotta squeeze by. And that’s okay. Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to be a little lazy, to write not as well as you’d like, to just do it versus doing it well. To show yourself some love. I was watching a talk show where the co-host was saying that we are all okay. That was her message. We just need to accept ourselves – faults and all. We are okay. Even when we can’t write a coherent post. Or when we fall behind in the A to Z Challenge. Or we can't say no to the raspberry chocolate chunk ice cream. We are okay. I am okay. And that, boys and girls, is your life lesson for today.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I - If

I've never been much for poetry. It's just not my thing. But one poem has always stuck with me. I was forced to memorize it in junior high. Now that I'm an adult, I find it even more inspiring and insightful. 

First, my spin on his poem. Because I could never follow his lovely words. My apologies to Mr. Kipling.

 If - by Cheryl Johnson

If you can keep your head when all around you
You’re always cleaning up some pee or poo;
If you can trust yourself when your kids doubt you
And accept the fact your life is now a zoo;

If piles of dirty laundry overwhelm you
And you’re so sick of hearing “That’s not fair!”
If all you want is just some peace and quiet
And no more ‘Mom, I’m out of underwear!”

If thoughts of making one more lunch or dinner
Make you want to gouge your eyes right out
And every day you’re making the same promise –
*Today* will be the day I will not shout.

If you can’t sit down for even two minutes,
If all the bedtime battles leave you spent
If every single day you feel like leaving
And you’re wondering when the wall got that new dent

If you love your children more than life itself,
Although your life is no longer your own;
You know you’ve learned much more than you have taught,
Then join the ranks of Moms; you’re not alone.

 Now for the real thing.


by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

H - Happiness

“Stop searching forever. Happiness is just next to you.” Allison read the little slip of paper slowly as she munched on the fortune cookie. She looked next to her. Lisa was a good friend. But happiness? She was starting to think she’d never be happy again.

”What’s your fortune say?” Lisa interrupted her thoughts.

“Never mind.”

“That bad?”

“Apparently you are the key to my happiness. No pressure or anything,” Allison tried to make a joke.

”Well, mine says a million bucks is going to drop out of thin air. Oh, come on, Al. What’s wrong? I mean, I know you’re going through a lot, but I thought this is what you wanted,” Lisa said.

Allison sipped on her coke and shrugged. “I thought it was. I was miserable with Brett. I’ve been wanting to leave for awhile now. I thought I’d be, well, free. He was making me so unhappy. I don’t understand. Right now it feels like I’ll never be happy again. I just don’t get it.”

”Divorce is never easy. It’s an adjustment. Change is always hard,” Lisa told her.

She knew Lisa was trying to help, but the words felt hollow. Lisa didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand because Allison herself didn’t understand why she felt so sad, so lonely, and so awful. Maybe she had made a big mistake. That was the worst part. She had been so eager to be free from her miserable marriage. She just knew that she’d be happy if she could get away from him. From feeling stuck. That’s all she was trying to do. To be happy again. And now she had this horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach. She feared that she had made the worst mistake of her life.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

G - Changing Gears

The powder-blue car lurched forward awkwardly. “Give it more gas! Give it more gas! Let off the brake more slowly! What have I been telling you?? Can you not hear me?!” David shouted at his daughter from the passenger seat.

“I’m trying! Stop yelling!” fifteen-year-old Kelsey shouted back.

“Don’t you yell at me, missy!” her father hissed as the car sputtered.

”I just can’t get it. I just can’t,” Kelsey wailed.

“Stop acting like a little kid! You’re not 10. Just do what I told you. And stop stalling the car! You’re tearing up my engine. Are you going to pay for it when you destroy it?? ‘Cuz I don’t think you have that kind of money. Show a little respect for my vehicle. Now put on your turn signal and go left up here,” he ordered.

“I just want to go home,” Kelsey whined.


Kelsey was almost in tears now. She just wanted out. “But, Dad –“

“Young lady, you *will* do what I told you to do. Right now. Make a left turn at the next light.”

Kelsey was shaking. Which one was the blinker? She fumbled for it as he yelled again.  “Use your signal! What do you want – for us to get hit?!” he screamed and flipped on the signal himself. “Geez! How did your driver’s ed teacher have the patience for this? You could not pay me enough to have that job! I can’t believe he passed you!”

Kelsey sat at the light, unsure of what to do. “Dad, what do I – how do I –“

“Just turn! It’s not rocket science!”

She turned the wheel. David reached over and promptly yanked the wheel back in the other direction. “I thought it went without saying that you yield to the traffic, moron! Are you trying to kill us?!”

Stunned, Kelsey got through the rest of the lesson the best she could. But that was the day it had all changed for her. It wasn’t about her learning to drive or grinding the gears or even making her father angry. It was the way her father had spoken to her that day. The way he had treated her. Something inside snapped. She’d show him what it meant to change gears.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

E & F - Epic Fail

Yes, I am cheating. I got behind so I’m combining E & F for this post. But it’s appropriate because that’s how I felt the other day. Epic failure. Not at this blogging thing. Though I’m not doing so hot with that either. At the parenting thing. I read a post a week or so ago about how no one tells us about the anger, the rage that comes with parenting. No one tells us about the sheer exhaustion of it all either. And it’s not just physical. Oh yes, that’s a big part of it. No doubt. But it’s mentally fatiguing as well. It so messes with your head. No one tells you how mentally tired you will get of telling your child 5, 10, 15 times to do something – say, go to bed. You set limits. You have consequences. You threaten. You yell. You try being understanding, but then end up losing it anyway when they *still* do not listen. And then? You get to do it all again the next night. Or maybe even the next morning. It’s exhausting to not be listened to. Ever. It’s exhausting to feel like you spend all day long washing dishes. Yet somehow the kitchen is never, I repeat NEVER, clean. 

Look at my blog during this challenge. I’ve written some fiction posts and even tried to follow a coherent storyline (what was I thinking?). Other posts are just parenting rants. That’s what it’s like to be a parent. You start one task, only to drop it and start something else. You jump back to the first thing, but never really finish anything. I mean, I almost used the word Exit for E and was going to exit the A-Z Challenge. But for some insane reason, I decided to try to plod on. Horrible as my blog posts and writing have been. Plodding on. Trudging through the mud. The ugly. Moving forward. Not giving up.

And that’s what parenting is as well. You mess up a million times a day. You get up in the morning and think, “Hey, I’m going to be kind and understanding and loving today. I’m not going to lose my temper.” And by noon, I’ve lost it a dozen times already. I immerse myself in positive parenting information and forget every bit of it when I get frustrated, tired or overwhelmed. Yet we have to keep going. We have no choice.

So I’m still here. Stinky writing and all. And do I have a clue what I’m going to do for G? No, I do not. Well, I can think of one word. And I have a feeling it’s the same word I wrote about for last year’s G. Guess I haven’t learned that lesson yet. Grace.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D - Dinner

Water bubbled over onto the stove. Allison silently cursed, then grabbed some pasta and began adding it to the pot. Rachael Ray she was not. She never had been. Luckily, Brett didn’t really mind. He wasn’t fussy that way. As long as the food was edible, he was good. In fact, he’d always been pretty generous with the compliments on her meals, though they were never extravagant by anyone’s definition.

‘Oh, there I go again. Focus,’ she muttered to herself. This wasn’t about his complimenting her food. Details. Meaningless details. She was just anxious. And trying to wiggle her way out of this dinner. This conversation that she desperately needed to have with him. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself. ‘Be strong.’ She picked up her glass of wine and took a big gulp.

The oven beeped. Allison slid the loaf of buttered garlic bread in. Ok, now for the salad. She rinsed the lettuce and tore it into bite-sized chunks. Why was she so nervous about this? She’d been waiting for what seemed like years to broach the subject. This wasn’t what she thought she’d feel like at all. Instead of excitement, she felt a knot in her stomach. She guzzled some more wine and made a face as it went down. She wasn’t much of a drinker, and wine was certainly not her drink of choice. But she needed some liquid courage for this endeavor. She wasn’t sure if it was working; maybe she needed something stronger. Unfortunately, that was the only alcohol in the house at the moment, so it would have to do.

She poured herself another glass, downed half of it and waited for the bread to be done. Wait. She needed to check on the pasta. And finish the salad. What else should she add? She peered into the salad bowl. Just lettuce. Yeah, she needed to add something. Tomatoes maybe. She didn’t have much in the fridge. Some grapes? Cheese. Yes! She needed cheese. Cheese would be perfect!  ‘You’re losing focus again. Stop it!’ she told herself.

She needed to rehearse what she was going to say, not worry about the salad. That was beside the point. She had written down a few thoughts, but where had she put her notes? Maybe she should just wing it. Just go with---

The sound of a car pulling up interrupted her thoughts. “Oh crap!” she said aloud as she heard footsteps. Before she had time to think, Brett walked in. She just stared at him, wide-eyed. He took one look at her and laughed. “Are you – are you drunk?” he asked in disbelief.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C - Control

We interrupt your regularly scheduled fiction to bring you this non-fiction post because well, blogging every day is hard. And this is what’s on my mind. And it starts with C.

“Control your young.”

 That line from the stuffy museum curator in the movie Night at the Museum makes me laugh every time. It’s a very real expectation in our society, though, and it’s no laughing matter if you’re a parent. Why? Well, because the truth is that we cannot control another human being. Even our kids. Especially our kids.

Are there times we have to pull rank on them just to get things done? Of course. But if that’s our primary way of operating, it’s going to backfire on us in the long run.

What to do? Probably the most important thing is to work at connecting with them. Foster our relationship. What’s that line? Rules without relationship produce rebellion. That may not be exact. But it’s true.

The value of spending time with our kids, slowing down and understanding them is very underestimated in our busy culture. All human beings want to be heard and understood. And isn’t being a parent ultimately about relationship anyway? Isn’t that what it is at its core? Plus, when kids feel connected, they tend to be more cooperative.

Another option is to just let them reap the consequences of what they’ve done. Admittedly, this isn’t always possible. But when it is, it’s a useful tool. For example, when your son doesn’t pick up his clothes off of the floor (and this *never* happens at our house), he doesn’t have clean clothes to wear if they don’t get into the wash. When your toddler throws a book at the dog (again, this *never* happens in our house), the book is removed until he can play with the book (and the dog) safely. Instead of rescuing them from consequences, sometimes it’s the best way to teach them how life works.

So many things are beyond our control. Situations. Our children. Their reactions to us. But we forget that the one thing we always *can* control is ourselves. Our reactions. We can choose how to respond when the kid knocks the milk over. We can get mad because we told him 3 times to watch out. Or we can calmly grab a cleaning rag and tell him he gets to clean it up. Even when they are pushing our buttons (again, this *never* happens here because I live in LaLa Land), it’s our choice how to respond. This one has got to be the hardest of all. Parenting will test the limits of your patience like nothing else. I know that the Marines think they have the toughest job they’ll ever love. But I disagree. I think parenting is the toughest job ever. And sometimes we don’t love it. But if we allow ourselves be taught and use the tough situations to grow, it can all be worth it.

But, man, it’s still hard.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B - Birthday

Allison stopped in her tracks. Something was dancing above her normally bare desk. She flipped on a light switch. Not dancing, floating.  A balloon bouquet. How lovely. She smiled. This wasn’t like him. Brett wasn’t usually so thoughtful. And how did he manage to get into her office? She felt a twinge of guilt for assuming he had forgotten her birthday.

She set her things down and went to the coffee pot. She liked getting in to work before everyone else. It was quiet. Peaceful. Plus she could get a jump on the day before all of the customers started calling in.  She picked up the phone to thank Brett.

 “Morning,” Steve smiled at her, interrupting her thoughts. “Oh, hi. You startled me. I didn’t realize anyone else was here.”

 “Happy birthday. Do you like your balloons?” Steve asked. 

“Oh – I –uh-yes. I can’t believe-“ She stopped as she realized they were probably not from Brett at all. “They’re from you?” she smiled involuntarily.

“Of course. Who did you think they were from? Greta the Grinch?” he laughed. Their supervisor Greta wasn’t exactly known for her people skills. Allison grinned.

“Yeah right. No, I just…that was so thoughtful. I didn’t know you even knew it was my birthday,” she answered softly. 

“I make it my business to know these things.” She could feel him looking at her, though she was pretending not to notice. 

“Well, thanks,” she said, putting down the phone. She felt a little blush in her cheeks.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A - Abandoned

Alone…Allison tripped on the covers as she stumbled to silence the screaming alarm clock. The red 6:00 glared at her angrily. How she hated getting up when it was still dark outside. She replaced the bed sheet and glanced hopefully at his spot. Nope. He was already gone. She figured as much. Brett was usually long gone by the time her alarm went off, but Allison could always hope.  

Abandoned…The quiet house mocked her as she stepped into the bathroom for her shower. Thirty minutes later she emerged and headed for the kitchen. She poured her sad little bowl of cold cereal and milk and gulped it down quickly, then threw a couple of stray plates into the dishwasher. He could never seem to clean up his own mess, she fumed as she slammed it shut again. 

Time for work. She hated her job. Almost as much as she hated awaking to darkness and an empty house.