Grapes

I have learned to ration grapes.

This lesson was a long time in the learning, but I think I finally have it down. It comes after many months of missing out on the grapes—grapes I bought. I would come home from the grocery store with three pounds of grapes, dump them in a colander and wash them. While they drained in the kitchen sink, they would disappear. All of them. Before the end of the day.

Week after week, month after month, this was happening. Now, you might think I would have caught on before now. You might think I would have devised a solution months ago. Or stopped buying grapes. But I didn’t. I just kept thinking that requesting my kids not eat all the grapes would be enough. Nevertheless, when I arrived home from work. The grapes would be gone.

“You ate all the grapes!” I would say when I discovered the disappearance.

“No. I saved you some,” would come the inevitable reply.

“Three grapes. You saved me three grapes!!”

“Oh. Is that all that’s left?” And there would be a long pause. “Sorry….”

And so, I have learned to ration the grapes. This is just one in a long line of lessons I have learned in my parenting career. I wash a small bunch at a time, and leave the majority in the refrigerator. In the back. Where they might go unnoticed.

It’s the only way I can have my grapes and eat them, too.

*Superstar* (a little February fun)

When I am alone in my car (and the circumstances are just right), I am the greatest singer on Earth. Day after day, week after week, year after year, I work hard to perfect my craft. I belt out the lyrics of songs I know, and I make up lyrics to the songs I don’t know. The acoustics are just perfect in my car with a background white noise of the tires humming along.

As I drive down the road in my own (somewhat odd and perhaps a bit self-serving) universe, I hold free concerts for thousands of adoring fans. They hold up their cell phones (since lighters are no longer a concert-fan-thing) and sway to the music. Sometimes, if I inspire this crowd of concert-goers, they will sing along in a great moment of unity, joining in for the chorus, or if I point to them, prompting them to sing. They know each of my songs by heart, and I love when they sing to me!

The minute I pull into the driveway of my building at work, the crowd begins to dissipate, fading into the trees surrounding the parking lot. My concert comes to an end. I step out of my car and back into the façade of professional educator. I become normal again. No fame and no fans follow me into the building. In seconds, I have gone from Superman to Clark Kent. I push my glasses up my nose as I settle into the desk chair and turn on some soft streaming music to fill the quiet that descended with the normalcy of the day.

As much fun as it is to think about superstardom, I embrace my normal life and the role that best fits my true strengths. Yes, I may (okay…I do) sing in the car, I only sing when I am alone for a reason. It’s just better that way.

Trust me.

{Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash}

Intimidating Stuff

Some things in life are intimidating, but the more you do them, the less intimidating they become.

Recently, a group of my student leaders was invited to have dinner with the University president. But the day before the dinner, we were notified that only a couple of the students had responded to the invitation, and the chef needed a head count. When we nudged the students to respond, some of them admitted they were intimidated by the thought of having dinner with the president.

And yet, the situations we encounter are often well matched to our development and to pushing that development just a bit beyond our optimal zone of comfort. Having dinner with a university president (who is well versed in dealing with young adults) is an appropriate situation for a student leader. Having dinner with the CEO of the corporation for which one works would be an appropriate situation for someone who had worked at the company for a while.

Life, you see, is about doing intimidating stuff. Because the intimidating stuff pushes us to grow and become better individuals.

But here’s the funny part. When you start doing intimidating stuff—making inquiry phone calls, engaging in debates with people whose opinions differ from yours, meeting with people in power, having dinner with your boss or the CEO of your organization, having difficult conversations—it stops being intimidating. It becomes the stuff you need to do.  You become more comfortable, and the difficult stuff…? It gets easier. Along the way, others start to recognize you as someone who faces situations head-on, they begin to look up to you, and you are given more responsibility. And more respect.

As you make your way through life, you need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you. Sometimes, they are only presented once, and if you don’t jump, you may miss your chance. Take advantage of opportunities so you will be seen. No one is going to come looking for you to work on their project or create their videos or run their department… if they haven’t already met you or heard about you or seen you.

You will be amazed at the opportunities that open up all because you started doing intimidating stuff, and you didn’t let your fear hold you back.

Step out of your comfort zone. The more often you do so, the more comfortable—and the more ready—you will be when it matters most.

{Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash}

Warming Station

This morning, I received a local alert text. You know the ones I mean—they typically warn of accidents or road closures or malfunctioning traffic lights. This morning’s text read: “Arctic Cold Temps Tonight/Tomorrow.” This was followed by information on the location of a “warming station” where residents can go if they are in need a warm place. Perhaps this text was directed to the homeless or to people who have a home that isn’t as warm as they might like. Or maybe, these people don’t have the heating budget set aside to keep their home warm enough in the impending arctic cold.

Regardless, I got to thinking about warming stations and responsibility and how we tend to others. In many respects, we are (or should be) responsible for one another. If the weather is not friendly—if it’s too cold or too hot, if the pavement is icy, or there is a blizzard coming—we need to watch out for those who might not be able to watch out for themselves.

I grew up in a neighborhood with a number of elderly folks. The woman next door was (I assume) a widow who lived alone. On the other side lived an elderly couple, and they shared their home with the man’s elderly sister. Farther down the street lived my mother’s former high school coach who walked with two canes. While she definitely needed the canes, they often seemed most helpful for moving things and people out of her way.

Over the years, these people became part of a circle of caring that was integral to my upbringing and instilled the importance of caring for others. On Sundays, I would deliver donuts and the Sunday paper. In the summer, we shared the harvest from our garden, and on Christmas Eve, we would deliver heaping plates of homemade cookies. I would hang laundry, sweep porches, and shovel snow. But under the guise of delivering some goody or other or offering to help with light chores, there was a more important purpose. We were checking up on these people who were more vulnerable to various elements of life—like the changing weather. We were the “warming station” for our neighbors.

A warming station is not just a physical place where someone can go to get warm. A warming station provides safety, security, and comfort. That, my friends, is something that any one of us can provide, if we are willing.

So as I read the text this morning, I realized that it shouldn’t take the community to set up the security others may need . It takes people who are willing to go out of their way to check up on others. And hopefully, when we reach the point of being more vulnerable to the forces around us, someone will be the warming station for us.

Adulting

I’m struggling a bit with the challenge of parenting adults. As all of my children are now over 18, there is a delicate balance I have to strike between over-parenting and under-parenting. And the balance changes from one day to the next and from kid to kid. So I have to figure out the balance (times three) each and every day.

One thing I want is to be honest with them about the excitement of being an adult because every kid should be prepared for all the fun that awaits them, and they need to know the tasks they will be responsible for. This morning, I texted my daughter a picture of my coffee; we were texting, and texting pictures of food is a thing, right? And it was kind of cool the way the sunlight was shining through the coffee and getting caught in the ice cubes. Did she agree with me? I doubt it. But after I sent the picture, she asked me where I was.

“I’m getting my tires rotated,” I informed her. And then I added, “I just love adulting” Really, there’s no place I’d rather be on a Saturday morning. When I completed this task, I was planning a trip to the transfer station to deposit my recyclables. And the fun would continue in a similar manner throughout the day.

“Oh, fun,” my daughter responded. “I can’t wait to start adulting.” The good, the bad and the mundane. It’s all in there somewhere. I’m not trying to dash her excitement about adulting, but a realistic picture of the fun that lies ahead isn’t unreasonable.

Is it?

Coffee [Up]Date

If we were having coffee, I would tell you how much I’ve missed this. The coffee and you. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed sitting down over coffee or a meal and discussing life and death and successes and failures. I have missed driving and warmth and friendship and the ruse that is happiness.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I haven’t given up. That I still plug along every day with the intention of moving in the right direction. But movement is slow and messy. The two steps forward three steps back thing has prevented me from getting to my goal as quickly as I would like, and I am frustrated.

If we were having coffee, we would discuss how frustration appears as red lines cracking through the grays of the moment. The color has drained, but I know it is still there. I can see it shining through the cracks.

If we were having coffee, I would listen to all that has changed in your life since we last spoke. I would listen for the moments that sparked joy and the issues that held you back. I would talk you through the sad times and wish for you a smooth road ahead.

If we were having coffee, we might discuss the light that shines through the dreariness of winter and reminds us of the hope and promise of spring. We might touch on the light that shines through the darkness of my mind and reminds me that the path I’m on, though not always easy or straight, is the right one. Definitely the right one.

If we were having coffee, I would ask you about your biggest fears. I would tell you about my children, and I would reveal that my biggest fears revolve around the fact that I want my children to be happy and fulfilled. And I often fret over whether I’ve done enough to set them on the path that will lead them in the right direction. How can a single parent ever do enough?

If we were having coffee, I would talk to you about some of my students. I would share stories about what these young adults have already accomplished. I would mention their ground-breaking achievements, their contributions to their community, their passion for helping others, and the struggles that have held them back from being even more amazing. I would tell you that these kids give me hope for the future, and that the world will be in good hands when this generation comes of age and begins to lead the world.

If we were having coffee, I might accidentally cry a bit, but I would tell you I was sorry for not holding myself together. Sometimes I feel missed opportunity as sharp rocks on the path of my journey. Sometimes I feel the happiness, the loneliness, and the joy so deeply that I cannot keep them contained in my body. They spill out of my eyes as warm tears and deep sobs. Sometimes. It doesn’t mean I am sorrowful or upset. It simply means I am still alive and experiencing the richness of life.

If we were having coffee, we would talk about storytelling and how important it is to tell stories for connection and vulnerability. I would encourage you to share your own story widely and in meaningful ways. I would remind you that you are unique and the world needs you. And I would let you know that I am here to listen any time you need me.

When we are done with our coffee and we are sweeping aside the crumbs of our chosen snack, I will be sure to tell you how much I enjoyed our time together. We might even set a date for our next coffee. Hopefully, it won’t be so long between coffee dates this time. After all, life is short and I’ve missed you.

Struggle

I am struggling to find something to write about, to find a topic that works, that fits with where my head is. I have been thinking and striving and trying for a while now, but for the life of me, I cannot come up with a topic that works. In fact, I’ve written several blog posts recently, but none is right to post, though I may come back to those someday. Who knows?

I know this is part of the process, this struggle and striving. Writing is not as easy as it seems. Sure, it seems like all I have to do is string a bunch of words together to make some sense of the world. Anyone can do that, right? But there are times—so many times—when there is just nothing. No light shines through the cracks in the walls as it usually does, bringing with it a flood of new ideas on which to focus. No light.

Just a dark silence that reverberates through my brain, voiding my imagination of all… well, imagination. My creativity needs a new igniter.

I know this is a temporary situation; I’ve been here many times before. And I also know that pushing through it to write something—anything—will help me begin to move beyond this creative vacuum more quickly.

And so, press on I do. I have written those several aforementioned blog posts that are too bad to share. I have written letters and freewrites and quotes that might make me think. And still, the struggle continues. Over the weekend, I will work on some writing exercises. Anything to get some ideas flowing. And who knows? One of these days, the floodgates of creativity may just give way to a fast and furious overflow of ideas.

{Photo by DJ Johnson on Unsplash}